Gates Foundation Drops ALEC

Roll Call reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will join Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft and Intuit in withdrawing its financial support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Roll Call rarely writes about ALEC, but did have an exhibition booth at the ALEC 2011 meeting in New Orleans.

Gates spokesman Chris Williams, while careful to note that Gates has never been a formal ALEC member, told the paper that it does not plan to renew its financial support for ALEC's education initiatives. "We have made a single grant, narrowly and specifically focused on providing information to ALEC-affiliated state legislators on teacher effectiveness and school finance," said Williams.

Gates, ALEC and For-Profit "Virtual" Schools

In November 2011, the Gates Foundation announced a $376,000 grant to ALEC and promptly came under heavy fire from bloggers and advocacy groups. At the time, the Foundation's Director of Policy and Advocacy who develops educational and "investment" strategies for ALEC was Stefanie Sanford a former staffer for Texas Governor Rick Perry. Tom Vander Ark, former education policy director at the Gates Foundation, now lobbies all over the country for online course requirements as a partner to an education tech venture capital company Learn Capital.

ALEC has long pursued a radical agenda to privatize every aspect of public education to benefit for-profit education firms. ALEC's huge array of education "model legislation" include bills that expand charter schools, voucher schools and now "virtual" online academies. ALEC's educational proposals have a common agenda: to drain public education dollars to support private for-profit schools, to avoid federal and state education requirements, and to weaken certification standards for teachers. Lee Fang documented for the Nation how tech and education firms profit off of children while failing to educate them. Fang also connects ALEC to the explosion of choice, charter and online school bills in thirteen states in 2011. In Wisconsin, ALEC legislators lifted a previously agreed upon enrollment cap for online school students.

ALEC corporate members such as K12, Inc. and Connections Academy put the interests of their corporate shareholders over the interest of children. The New York Times recently studied one K12, Inc. school which was failing to educate kids "by almost every educational measure" but "by Wall Street standards, though, Agora is a remarkable success," profiting off of federal and state taxpayer dollars. A recent study of virtual schools in Pennsylvania conducted by Standford University showed that online students performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts. The University of Colorado conducted a study that found only 27 percent of virtual schools met minimum federal standards.

This week the progressive online activist group Progressive Change Campaign Committee or PCCC decided to target the Gates Foundation and AT&T and ask that they withdraw from ALEC. Hours later, the Gates Foundation made its announcement that it would no longer support ALEC financially. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten applauded the move telling the Center for Media and Democracy: "ALEC doesn't help kids, and we are glad the Gates Foundation discontinued the relationship."

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is a reporter for the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). She helped launch CMD's award-winning ALEC Exposed investigation and is a two-time recipient of the Sidney Prize for public interest journalism from the Sidney Hillman Foundation.


If ALEC's educational proposals such as draining public education dollars to support private for-profit schools, avoiding federal and state education requirements, weakening certification standards for teachers; and if Lee Fang documented how tech and education firms profit off children while failing to educate them, how is it that the Gates, who seem to be philanthropists, have been supporting A.L.E.C. for so long? Did they have their underlings take care of this business, and were they too busy to notice? I also read that they have not completely severed ties with A.L.E.C. This changes my views on the work of the Gates, if the information is correct. I am a former English Professor, and have taught in many schools across the country, as well as in foreign countries. I'm open to new ideas on education reform, but this news does not look good to me.