ALEC’s Pursuit of Education Freedom
Education freedom has been a cornerstone issue for ALEC since its inception 50 years ago, but it has never been more important in America’s history than it is now.
The final video in the ALEC 50th anniversary video series, “Education Opportunity,” features two ALEC Board Members, West Virginia Senator Patricia Rucker and Iowa Speaker Pro Tem John Wills, Jeanne Allen with the Center for Education Reform, Robert Enlow with EdChoice, Don Lee with Stride, ALEC CEO Lisa B. Nelson, and Education & Workforce Development Task Force Director Andrew Handel.
Education freedom has been a cornerstone issue for ALEC since its inception 50 years ago, but it has never been more important in America’s history than it is now. When students were abruptly transitioned onto Zoom, and schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents got a more intimate look at the education their children were receiving, and many were frustrated with what they saw. The desire among parents to find better educational options for their kids has supercharged the movement for education freedom in just the past three years, leading to a massive increase in the number of states not only offering such programs, but offering them to all students. Jeanne Allen, the Founder & CEO of the Center for Education Reform highlighted this by saying:
The state legislatures have just been on fire, especially in the last few years. I mean, it’s always been where we could expect the best stuff to come when we’re looking at education freedom. And so I think ALEC is essential. I don’t really think we’d be where we are today without ALEC.
ALEC’s Education & Workforce Development Task Force Director, Andrew Handel, also highlighted the success of states passing universal education freedom legislation:
Over the past couple of years we’ve seen a tremendous increase in the number of universal education states. It started with West Virginia two years ago, Arizona got on board last year, and now this year we’ve had a ton of states that have gotten it done. We’ve had Iowa, Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, and Indiana, just to name a few.
ALEC Board Member and West Virginia State Senator Patricia Rucker is credited with sponsoring the first universal education freedom bill in the country and based it on ALEC’s model policy, the Education Savings Account Act. She credits ALEC with providing inspiration for the legislation:
I introduced, in West Virginia, a universal education savings account (ESA) called the Hope Scholarship — the model came from ideas that were presented to me at ALEC conferences. This is a perfect example of how ALEC has become a trusted source of policy solutions.
A year after the Hope Scholarship Program became law, ALEC passed a new ESA model policy and titled it the “Hope Scholarship Act,” implementing many of the improvements that were found in Senator Rucker’s final legislation.
Another ALEC Board Member, Speaker Pro Tem John Wills of Iowa, led a universal ESA bill through his state legislature this year. Speaker Pro Tem Wills notes:
It’s especially great for Iowa. Over a period of three years, it’s going to provide a universal child educational savings account for every child in the state. We have great public schools, but the bottom line is we want parents to have the choice. Those kids are going to have benefits and a future that they would’ve never had, if not for ALEC.
One of the greatest champions for universal education freedom was noted economist and nobel laureate, Milton Friedman – who is often called the “father of school choice.” In 1996, Friedman and his wife, Rose, created the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. In 2016, the foundation became EdChoice. Robert Enlow, the President & CEO of EdChoice, explains:
When Milton Friedman spoke in 2006 at the ALEC Annual Convention in San Francisco, it was his last major speech that he gave. Milton’s main message was that you needed choice for all and that legislators should support the right of parents to be free to choose. Whether those schools are public, private, charter, online, or in any other way we haven’t thought about, the landscape has changed for the better. ALEC has been a great partner with EdChoice to make sure that the information and the awareness is available to all policymakers across the country.
But ALEC’s work in education policy hasn’t just been limited to universal education freedom. Other critical policies ALEC has worked to promote include freedom in homeschooling, access to charter schools and virtual schools, and implementing open enrollment policies, so students are free to choose between different public-school options. Don Lee, Vice President of Public Affairs for Stride, a leading virtual-school provider, and member of ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Council, tells us:
Thanks to ALEC and their model policies and legislative network and communications outlets, virtual school and open enrollment policies have successfully been implemented in some states over the last 25 years, giving more students the option of traditional and virtual public schools.
ALEC and our members believe no student should be locked into one educational option. Instead, states should be providing families a variety of educational options and give them the flexibility to choose. ALEC’s CEO, Lisa B. Nelson, says it best:
When people ask me about the impact that ALEC has had on education, all I can think about is the 30 years that we’ve been working on education choice, exemplifying the idea that parents should have a right to choose their children’s education in their schools. There is so much momentum behind education freedom, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work that ALEC has done across the country.