School of Education News

Underwood speaks with Education Week, NPR about DeVos’ alignment with ALEC

July 19, 2017

UW-Madison’s Julie Underwood is quoted in recent reports from Education Week and National Public Radio highlighting U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ upcoming speech Thursday to the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

The Education Week article is headlined: “Why Betsy DeVos and ALEC are Natural Allies on School Choice.”

Underwood is the Susan Engeleiter Professor of Education Law, Policy and Practice, and the former dean of the School of Education.

Writes Education Week’s Arianna Prothero: “U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — an ardent school choice supporter who has turned out to be among the Trump administration’s most polarizing cabinet picks — will deliver a speech this week to members of a controversial organization that some argue is her best shot at advancing an aggressive school choice agenda. The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is known for drafting conservative model legislation in states on a range of issues including gun rights, tax reform, and education. DeVos will appear at ALEC’s annual meeting Thursday in Denver.”

Prothero adds: “ … ALEC is successful at influencing policy in statehouses, and its focus on private school choice dovetails perfectly with DeVos’ education priorities.”

Predictably, Education Week notes, DeVos’ decision to address ALEC members this week is drawing some criticism.

“My concern about ALEC is that (it) takes the private corporation and gives them such incredible power,” says Underwood.

Underwood notes how the current co-chair of the group’s education committee, Tom Bolvin, works for K12 Inc., the for-profit education company that has been under fire for poor performance of many of the online charter schools it operates.

“(DeVos) can use her bully pulpit to further their privatization agenda,” Underwood tells Education Week.

The report from Anya Kamenetz is headlined, "Betsy DeVos' Latest Speech Draws Protests, Even Before She Speaks." This report explains how hundreds marched from the Capitol in Denver to the Hyatt Regency, the site of the speech, with signs reading, "Take Devouchers Elsewhere," and "Stop School Privatization!"

ALEC has a track record, NPR reports, of getting the laws that it writes on the books in dozens of states with few changes.

"We see the same pieces of legislation being proposed in state, after state, after state," Underwood tells NPR, which notes how she has been investigating ALEC's actions in education for the past five years.

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