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NCLB Outrages

Spellings Tells Lawmakers No Child Left Behind Is Good Politics

NOTE: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a secretive right-wing bunch. It is next-to-impossible to uncover information about them, such as funding sources. And the press doesn't even try. Watchdrog groups birddog ALEC as best they can. Here are some watchdog groups watching ALEC:

Public Trust http://www.publictrustaction.org/

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded by one of the most radical right-wing activists in the country, Paul Weyrich (a fact that ALEC has expunged from most of its official documents). It joins right-wing "free market" extremism and anti-government ideals with corporate special interests who use ALEC to advance their anti-public interest agenda in state legislatures across the country. Though ALEC bills itself as a membership organization of state legislators, it is, in reality, little more than a façade for America's largest corporations.

ALEC's model bills are largely written by corporations that buy their way onto legislative task forces, in a "pay-to-play" strategy. This corporate veto means that strip-mining and chemical companies write environmental laws, drug companies write prescription drug laws, insurance companies and HMO executives write health care laws, and fast-food chains and other companies that pay low wages write laws to abolish the minimum wage and worker safety laws. In fact, ALEC gives corporations the opportunity to re-write the very laws under which they are regulated, and then provides them with access to legislators who promote corporate special interests by copying these model bills in each state.

PFAW Right Wing Watch http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=6990

Established in 1973 by Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, among others, ALEC's purpose is to reach out to state office holders. In the words of ALEC's executive director, Sam Brunelli:

"ALEC's goal is to ensure that these state legislators are so well informed, so well armed, that they can set the terms of the public policy debate, that they can change the agenda, that they can lead. This is the infrastructure that will reclaim the states for our movement."

ALEC has the financial support of more than 200 corporations including Coors, Amway, IBM, Ford, philip Morris, Exxon, Texaco and Shell Oil. William Bennett, Jack Kemp, John Sununu, and George Bush have all addressed ALEC sessions in recent years.

When ALEC began, it comprised only a handful of right-wing legislators; by 1991, it had grown into a clearinghouse of information for 2,400 conservative officeholders in 50 states, almost one-third of the 7,500 state legislators in the country. According to a representative of the National Council of State Legislatures, although ALEC has not substantially modified its right-wing position on what it considers to be its core issues, it has been successful in attracting more moderate legislative support by toning down its more extreme rhetoric.

SERC’s Watchdog http://www.serconline.org/watchdog/watchdogpage.html

Media Transparency http://www.mediatransparency.org/recipients/alec.htm

It comes as no surprise, then, to see where Spellings chooses to defend NCLB.

Grapevine, Texas — Calling the federal No Child Left Behind Act "good
policy and good politics," U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings
defended the landmark education law on Thursday at a conference for
conservative state lawmakers.

The three-year-old law has faced increasingly strident opposition among
states that complain the federal government is encroaching on their
right to educate children as they see fit.

Spellings said No Child Left Behind is a partnership, not a mandate, and
she reiterated her commitment to addressing states' concerns about
testing special education students and children who speak limited English.

"I know as well as you do that the hard work of educating our children
doesn't happen in Washington, D.C.," Spellings told hundreds of people
at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a
right-leaning group of state lawmakers and business leaders.

Deflecting criticism that states can't afford to implement the law's
provisions, Spellings cited two Government Accountability Office studies
— one in 2004 that found No Child Left Behind is not an unfunded mandate
and another in 2003 that concluded Congress was providing more than
enough money for states to design and utilize statewide achievement tests.

Spellings also said big gains on the 2004 National Assessment of
Educational Progress show the law is working. The nation's 9-year-olds
posted their best reading and math scores in more than 30 years on the
test, which sometimes is known as the nation's report card.

"The law is good policy and good politics because the American people
see education as a value, not an issue," she said. "... That's why the
majority of adults in our country say that a high-quality public
education system is the number one factor in our country's global success."

Several states, including Texas, are openly defying parts of No Child
Left Behind, while others have launched legislative or legal attacks.
Utah passed a law this spring that lets education officials ignore
provisions of the federal law that conflict with the state's education

"The federal government should not be dictating 100 percent of the
state's policy just because they are providing 7 percent of the
funding," said Utah state Rep. Margaret Dayton, a Republican who led her
state's fight against No Child Left Behind and attended Spellings'
Thursday speech. "We provide the other 93 percent of the funding, and we
should have at least 93 percent of the say."

Spellings said she is listening to the states' complaints and is willing
to discuss modifying the law. She said the Education Department is still
thinking about letting states use a growth model to gauge the progress
of individual students as they move among grades.

She also said the department will work with states to develop modified
tests for special education students. That became a hot button issue in
Texas in February when Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley exempted
hundreds of thousands of special education students from federal testing
rules. Texas likely faces a fine for defying the law.

Under Texas law, school districts are required to administer an
alternate exam — rather than the more rigorous Texas Assessment of
Knowledge and Skills — to most special education students. About 9
percent of Texas' 2.9 million children took the alternate test in 2004.

But federal law said only the 1 percent of students with the most severe
cognitive disabilities could be exempted from the state standardized
test. Additional exempted students were to be counted as automatic failures.

As a compromise, Spellings allowed Texas to exempt up to 5 percent of
its students from testing this year and up to 3 percent in the future.

Despite Spellings' concessions and her insistence that No Child Left
Behind has led to dramatic improvements, some lawmakers said they still
have misgivings.

"I'm not real happy about No Child Left Behind period," said Glenn
Hamilton, a Republican state representative in South Carolina. "I do
think that what they're doing is pretty good. I just think it's the
federal government's way of getting into our state's business too far."


On the Net:

U.S. Education Department, http://www.ed.gov

American Legislative Exchange Council, http://www.alec.org/

— Liz Austin, Associated Press
Austin American-Statesman


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