The Damage Being Done to Schools by ALEC

 Permanent link   All Posts

Today's guest post comes from Michael Leachman, Director of State Fiscal Research with the State Fiscal Policy Division at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.   

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking at the annual AASA conference. It was a good conversation, but my topic was no fun. I was talking about the damage being done by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to the ability of states to properly fund schools.

Here’s a summary of ALEC’s state tax and budget agenda, all of which is likely to weaken funding for schools: (For more information, see our paper on ALEC here):

  • Very deep tax cuts, especially for corporations, investors, and the wealthy. These take a number of forms, including the elimination of state income taxes and estate taxes, but always result in less funding for schools and other public services.
  • A shift in who pays taxes from the wealthy to the poor and middle class. This includes special treatment for investment income, a shift from income taxes to unusually high sales taxes (which fall harder on lower-income families), and the elimination of tax-based supports for the working poor.
  • Rigid (and preferably constitutional) revenue limits, including a harsh constitutional revenue limit known as TABOR and supermajority requirements for revenue-raising bills. These make it harder for the state to provide public schools with the funding they need.

Since 2010, ALEC has had some success pushing this agenda on the false grounds that it will boost state economies. Their biggest success was in Kansas, where major ALEC spokesman Arthur Laffer designed a package of massive income tax cuts the state legislature passed in 2012.

Things haven’t gone so well in Kansas since the tax cuts took effect. Job growth lags the country and the huge hole blown by the tax cuts in the state budget is even bigger than expected, further complicating the funding environment for schools. There’s no reason to think the tax cuts will boost the economy in the future either.

The outcomes in Kansas are no surprise. ALEC’s state fiscal policy approach does not result in stronger economic growth, and analyses ALEC has produced to justify its agenda have been found repeatedly to be faulty and misleading (as we detail in our report).

While ALEC has had some success in recent years, it also has failed. Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and other states have rejected extreme, ALEC-inspired proposals to eliminate the state’s income tax, though a number of states have passed similar, if smaller, versions of the Kansas tax cuts.

As respected state and local leaders, superintendents can play a powerful role in debates over ALEC-inspired tax and budget proposals. You can explain to people in your communities how such proposals hit home and shine a light on the tangible consequences for their schools and children. By participating in coalitions, writing articles in newsletters or for local papers, testifying at legislative hearings, holding community forums, and the like, you also can have a major impact on the broader state debate. Many of you already are in touch with a fiscal policy group that is your state’s representative in the State Priorities Partnership. If not, they’d love to hear from you! I’d be happy to help you make a connection.

Thank you again for a great conversation last week. We look forward to working with you all in the years ahead to protect the funding your schools need to succeed.


Leave a comment
Name *
Email *