Corporate Education Reform and ALEC's Definition of Acceptable Risk

The left-leaning political blog Think Progress recently reported on a comment from a top-executive with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that some children eating rat poison is "an acceptable risk." Thus, there is no justification for the government to regulate these kinds of products. For ALEC, the risk is just the cost of doing business and it's really up to the parents to do the actual cost-benefit analysis; that is, don't use poison and endure a rat infestation on the one hand or on the other kill the rats, but potentially poison your child in the process. Nice.

I bring up this story on ALEC half in earnest and half in jest. I'm probably over-simplifying the rat poison quote, and perhaps this is just how people in business speak. Although, it does not diminish the puerile nature of a comment labeling poisoned children as one of many potential "acceptable risks" in the extermination business.

In earnest, however, ALEC's political influence is very far-reaching and not to be underestimated, particularly regarding public education policy. I've learned a great deal about ALEC's thinly veiled agenda to privatize public education through the website ALEC Exposed, sponsored by the Center for Media and Democracy, which among other items, lists the numerous pieces of legislation that ALEC supports. Nearly all of these bills undermine the public nature of education, dismantle the collective bargaining rights of educators, and deceptively couch school choice in so-called "parent trigger" laws. For the record, collective assembly and the right to join a trade union are present in Articles 20 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respectively. That is, along with, you know, the right to not be enslaved. Look it up.

Ultimately, I wanted to have a little fun at ALEC's expense, specifically with Todd Wynn, director of Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force, who deemed poisoned kids as acceptable risks in doing business. I've always felt this way about certain executives and bureaucrats: they're interchangeable. They could be selling anything and the language stays the same. Or, you could take someone out of one DOE (Department of Energy) and plop them into another DOE (Department of Education) without missing a beat. The problem in both cases is that you're dealing with human beings, not widgets.

In any case, I assume political influence is political influence, regardless of industry. So, let's take Mr. Wynn's quote and apply it directly to their educational agenda. You can read the actual statement here, but I've changed the some of the words in bold to see how it turns out. Interesting to say the least:

"There are certain levels of acceptable risk in society, and parents play an important role by weighing the potential risks and benefits of using a product. Unfortunately, DOE expands its reach into the American education system more and more each and every year. This year it will be school choice, but next year another useful reform will be burdened by additional regulations or banned outright from the market."

I didn't have to make many adjustments, and I think the fit is perfect. But here's the kicker and this fits the education reform debate as well. Again, the real conversation is here and I've changed the words in bold:

"[Insert private charter network] marketing director, [insert name], tells the Heartlander that the DOE's action would force consumers to choose from "inferior" or "less effective" education products, and that student achievement could "decrease dramatically, resulting in a possible public health issue." ALEC's Wynn also argues that low-income people are most afflicted by education problems and will be most affected by the proposed ban on [insert reform here]."

The truth of the matter notwithstanding, that rat poison or education reform regulations disproportionately affect low income populations, the urgency of helping the least among us is the standard justification for rushing through radical and untested educational programs. It is as if our inner cities are grand laboratories, testing products and initiatives of all kinds. And with organizations like ALEC, who wield tremendous private influence on public policies like education, the coveted bottom line will always force some children to become "acceptable risks."