The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is an infamous legislation factory which is notoriously hostile toward traditional public schools. Its model bills are passed into law–often word for word–by state legislatures around the country.
ALEC’s education platform claims the nation’s K-12 education system is “failing our students, leaving them unprepared for college, careers, or life,” and the policies the organization writes for lawmakers offer a smorgasbord of legislative pathways for defunding public schools, especially those that serve high-poverty students.
That’s why it’s so disappointing to learn that one of North Carolina K-12 public education’s most high-profile partners, SAS Institute, is paying for members of North Carolina’s General Assembly to travel to ALEC’s annual meetings, where viewing and discussing the group’s suggested anti-public school policies is one of the primary activities.
SAS Institute is a privately held analytics software company based in Cary, NC. Its founder and CEO James Goodnight’s net worth is estimated at more than $13 billion, making him the richest person in North Carolina by a wide margin.
SAS has an extremely cozy relationship with the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Just last month, for example, SAS hosted an event where company software specialists and professional educators including DPI Deputy Superintendent of District Support Dr. Beverly Emory presented on how to use SAS data in public schools.
Millions of North Carolina taxpayer dollars go to SAS every year for a variety of software-related education contracts. The company provides K-12 teachers with EVAAS ratings, which employ a secret algorithm to measure individual teachers’ effectiveness using DPI’s standardized test data. It also produces the North Carolina School Report Cards.
North Carolina’s School Report Cards assign each school a single A-F letter grade representing its overall performance. The report cards have been controversial since state legislators introduced them in 2013 as the grades are highly correlated with levels of poverty and sometimes have the effect of pushing families away from traditional public schools.
Probably not by coincidence, ALEC has been peddling its “A-Plus Literacy Act” to lawmakers since early 2011. The model bill recommends a statewide A-F school report card system with a special focus on reporting results for students who score in the lowest 25th percentile, and it refers to the grading system as a “lynchpin for reforms.” One such reform is also included in the bill, as ALEC recommends students who attend F schools be given an opportunity to enroll in private schools instead.
According to filings with the NC Secretary of State’s office, in August of 2018 and August of 2019, SAS Institute paid for meals and travel expenses for 19 members and staff of the North Carolina General Assembly to attend ALEC’s annual meetings.
A leaked copy of the attendee list from the August 2019 meeting in Austin, TX, shows the North Carolina delegation included Senators Chuck Edwards and Todd Johnson, both of whom serve on the Senate Education Committee.
It’s not particularly surprising that members of the North Carolina General Assembly would attend an ALEC meeting where they can learn about the latest cookie-cutter legislation with their buddies from around the country.
What is objectionable is that SAS Institute, a company that positions itself as a friend of public education, is taking taxpayer dollars in exchange for services to our K-12 public schools, then using some of that money to ensure that our legislators are spoon fed policies that are ultimately damaging to those same schools.