The Garden City Telegram
3/24/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Bill bust

Legislators turn to ALEC for poor plan on schools.

Another attempt to undermine public schools materialized last week in the Kansas Statehouse.

Faced with an order to come up with an estimated $129 million to remedy constitutional violations of school finance law identified by the Kansas Supreme Court, some lawmakers looked to take advantage of the situation.

A Republican-backed House bill was proof. It called for addressing the school funding requirement, but also included expansion of charter schools, overhaul of teacher licensing and tax breaks for private school scholarships.

The misguided proposal drew sharp criticism, and for good reason.

Knowing reserve funds are available, the Legislature should simply comply with the court order. There was no need to pack in a litany of additional policy changes.

But it was one way to sink the school financing portion. Lawmakers behind the overloaded bill knew the additional, radical education-related parts would force others to reject the plan, school funding and all.

The extra educational components also delivered another example of right-wing Kansas lawmakers following the lead of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a national blueprint for ultraconservative policy-making.

Public schools are among targets of ALEC, a "bill mill" supported by billionaire Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and other special interests. ALEC's so-called "model bills" reach into many phases of American life, and often benefit huge corporations.

ALEC also produces boiler-plate legislation for states on same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act, voter "fraud," Medicaid expansion and more.

Sound familiar?

ALEC promotes concepts of free-market enterprise and limited government, which are worthy of discussion in legislative pursuits. The problem is lawmakers who mindlessly sign off on ALEC's one-size-fits-all approach without weighing constituent input or interests.

And that's what we're getting from ultraconservative GOP lawmakers hand-picked by Gov. Sam Brownback's camp to forward an extremist agenda coveted by the Koch brothers and Tea Party faithful.

Lawmakers who apparently cannot come up with their own legislation are digging into the ALEC playbook instead of working for the people they represent.

The recent education bill was a prime example. Unfortunately, there's more to come from legislators answering to ALEC and its cronies.