ALEC model legislation echoes TPPF, Perry-backed higher ed reforms in Texas
Recently released documents exposing the inner workings of an influential corporate and state lawmaker collaboration called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), show that model legislation pushed by the group mirrors some of the controversial priorities that are driving the higher education debate in Texas today. A leading figure pushing those reforms in Texas has a leadership with the group, on its board of scholars.
ALEC, a coalition of thousands of state political representatives and major corporations like Pfizer, Wal-Mart and Koch Industries, drafts legislation that is introduced in state houses with no indication that the bills were crafted with the aid of the corporations that stand to gain. The Nation magazine, in conjunction with the Center for Media and Democracy obtained the insider documents from an activist whistleblower this month.
Our sister site The Minnesota Independent explains that the leak includes more than 800 ALEC draft bills on business-friendly issues, that may turn up in slightly different forms in each state, despite their common origin with ALEC.
The powerful anti-union, pro-privatization, free-market and limited government organization has said it helps shepherd more than 1,000 corporate-sponsored bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in five enacted into law.
Records show Texas Gov. Rick Perry is not only a member of the controversial group, but is the recipient of more than $2 million in campaign contributions from ALEC corporate members from 2004-2011, reports the National Institute for Money in State Politics and Texas Watchdog.
Perry is a prominent member of the group, having received the Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award from ALEC last year. Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries garnered an award from the group in 1994. The governor delivered a speech during the 2010 ALEC policy summit, deriding New Deal principles and government ‘overreach’.
Yet, Perry is not alone in pocketing money from the group, which describes itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership.” the The National Institute for Money in State Politics found candidates in Texas have received more than $3.8 million from the group’s corporate members since 1990 — or 31 percent of the group’s total contributions, well above the $922,761 received by candidates in California, which came in second.
‘Greater Productivity in American Higher Education’
Model bills — some adopted in as early as 2004 and 2007 — crafted by ALEC promote ideas presented by the “seven breakthrough solutions” stirring the higher education debate in Texas, including prioritizing degree completion rates and increased faculty transparency, and questioning state spending on research.
For instance, a model resolution (PDF) calling for “Greater Productivity in American Higher Education,” suggests increasing and rewarding completion rates:
“The Legislature should begin setting aside significant portions of its higher education budget to reward institutions for students who complete courses and graduate in greater numbers at lower per-unit expense […]”
Legislation authored by Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas), signed into law by Perry last month, alters the way public colleges and universities receive state funding by factoring in degree completion rates, in addition to enrollment rates.
The outcomes-based funding model, backed by Perry, came under fire by the Texas Faculty Association, which argued a graduation-rate focus could limit enrollment to only those students most likely to finish with a degree, while forcing faculty to water down courses’ academic rigor.
Branch’s bill also aligns with legislative recommendations set forth by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation and by a specially formed committee with financial and professional ties to Gov. Rick Perry, as the Texas Independent previously reported.
Other ALEC higher education bills promote greater transparency in faculty and student engagement, such as reporting average teaching loads by discipline (like credit hours taught per student), explanations of student outcomes and instituting a process that measures student satisfaction, ideas that echo TPPF reforms as well as legislation introduced this session.
Model bills also advocate subsidizing private universities by offering taxpayer-funded vouchers to for-profit and religious institutions of higher education and introducing tax advantages to wealthy families who fund their children’s college education by allowing exemptions from taxation for college savings accounts, according to ALEC Exposed.
UT productivity critic on ALEC board
Perhaps more telling is the potential influence by one member of ALEC’s board of “scholars,” Richard Vedder. The Ohio University economics professor has become a controversial figure in the Texas higher education world this year, taking aim the state’s universities in a critical study of University of Texas at Austin faculty teaching and research, as the Texas Independent previously reported.
Vedder, also a senior TPPF fellow and founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), says there is a large disparity in faculty teaching loads, and that less productive professors should be dismissed. In a Wall Street Journal editorial, Vedder elaborates on his findings, arguing the pros and cons of a college degree and calls on “the faculty to teach, on average, about 150-160 students a year.”
His CCAP study — regarded by UT System officials as “incomplete” for failing to quantify, for instance, whether a faculty member handled administrative duties along with — was subsequently blasted by the academic community, including a Texas A&M University political science professor who called the report “substantively misleading.”
The Texas Independent discovered funding for Vedder’s work and CCAP comes from Arlington, Va.-based organization called Donors Trust Inc., a nonprofit that specializes in funding conservative causes in line with the wishes of donors, while obscuring whose money goes where. The progressive blog Crooks and Liars called Donors Trust a “tax-deductible slush fund”.
The group paid Vedder $150,000 in 2009 and about $82,000 in 2007, as an independent contractor. His name appears to be absent from the 2008 Donors Trust IRS forms.
Vedder spoke about the reasons behind growing tuition costs during a 2008 annual ALEC meeting, and during a July 2009 “Education Task Force” workshop on Higher Education focusing on what for-profit providers are doing to increase access to higher education.
At the latter event, Vedder sat on a panel with Randy Best of Higher Ed Holdings (which specializes in distance learning at colleges including Lamar University and UT-Arlington) and a representative from Corinthian Colleges Inc (a chain of private, for-profit institutions) — all of whom attended the 2008 TPPF Higher Education summit hosted by Gov. Perry, the birthing ground of the controversial “seven solutions.”
Regents from the state’s six university systems convened in Austin for that event.