Here lies public education

It’s not breaking news that Senator Lamar Alexander is in favor of the push to replace public schools with privately managed charter schools. It’s important to note that he is the ranking Republican member of the Senate committee that oversees the Department of Education. He served as the Secretary of the Department of Education under President George H.W. Bush.  He is also a former governor of Tennessee and former president of the University of Tennessee

According to one report, “Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the Senate education panel, said low-income students would be better served if instead of funding public schools, the government sent that money to their families to spend at public or private schools.”

See Senator Alexander’s views on School Choice in his own words here:

It’s also evident that he works closely with members of the charter school community

Alice Rolli who was Lamar Alexander’s campaign manager is a member of the regional board of Teach for America.

Marguerite served as Special Assistant to U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander. She also serves as Board Treasure for GREEN DOT, and is the Former President & CEO, America’s Promise Alliance.

In addition, according to a TFA newsletter from 2005:

“Congressional Champions Float Bill for Federal Authorization of Annual Appropriation to Teach For America The Senate and the House introduced bipartisan legislation to authorize federal funds of up to $25 million annually by 2010, which would enable Teach For America to grow to 8,000 corps members. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Harry Reid (D-NV), Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) led the effort in the Senate. Representatives Michael Castle (R-DE), Harold Ford (DTN), Ralph Regula (R-OH), Tom Osborne (R-NE) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) led the effort in the House.”

From 2008-2010 Lamar earmarked $95,000 for KIPP Schools.

What to Watch For

Lamar Alexander is the lead author of a bill called “Every Child Ready for College and Career Act” (S 1101) which intends to completely rewrite NCLB. While the bill’s beacon of hope rests with its demand to return decision-making about curriculum and assessment back into state and local hands, make sure to read the fine print. The devil as usual is in residence. This section of S 1101 called “Title IV” eerily resembles ALEC model legislation:

Title IV (in S 1101) – Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools:

Repeals part A (Innovative Programs), subpart 3 (Voluntary Public School Choice Programs) of part B (Public Charter Schools), and part D (Fund for the Improvement of Education) of title V (Promoting Informed Parental Choice and Innovative Programs) of the ESEA. Revises the program currently under subpart 1 (Charter School Programs) of part B and subsumes the program currently under subpart 2 (Credit Enhancement Initiatives to Assist Charter School Facility Acquisition, Construction, and Renovation) under that revised program.

Replaces the current charter school grant program with a program awarding renewable competitive grants to states, authorized public chartering agencies, and LEAs and, through them, renewable subgrants to charter school developers to open new charter schools and expand and replicate high-quality charter schools.

Requires such grantees to use 10% of the grant funds to provide technical assistance to subgrantees and authorized public chartering agencies and to work with those agencies to improve the charter school authorization process.

Makes authorized public chartering agencies, LEAs, and charter management organizations eligible to receive renewable competitive grants to open new charter schools and expand and replicate high-quality charter schools.

Revises the per-pupil facilities aid program (under which the Secretary makes competitive matching grants to states to provide per-pupil financing to charter schools) to allow states to: (1) partner with organizations to provide up to 50% of the state share of funding for the program; and (2) receive more than one program grant, so long as the amount of the grant funds provided to charter schools increases with each successive grant.

Directs the Secretary to conduct certain national activities that include awarding competitive grants directly to charter school developers to open, replicate, and expand charter schools in states that have not received, or are nearing the end of, a grant for that purpose.

Allows charter schools to serve prekindergarten or postsecondary school students.

NOTE: The top lobbyists for S. 1101 are: Alliance for Excellent Education, National Alliance for Charter Schools, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NEA, AFT and Amazon.

A related bill (associated with S. 1101) is H.R. 10:Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act”

Also associated with this bill is H.R. 5: “Student Success Act” sponsored by Congressman john Klein (R-MN).  This bill, “Requires public charter school leaders and representatives of public charter school authorizers to be included on each state’s committee of practitioners that advises the state on carrying out its responsibilities under title I.” It also “treats charter schools as LEAs under title II.” In fact, Title III: Parental Engagement and Local Flexibility (Sec. 301) replaces title III (Language Instruction for Limited English Proficient and Immigrant Students) of the ESEA with a new title III (Parental Engagement and Local Flexibility) and remarkably resembles Alexander’s S 1101 Title IV.

Given Alexander’s penchant for privatizing education it’s clear that these bills intend on using state and local decision-making policies to do what federal policies of Race to the Top intended to do all along, just at the behest of state and local governance instead of federal: close public schools and replace them with charters.

Another interesting thing to keep watch over as Senator Alexander begins to push his education agenda is how the for profit education enterprises,(especially Apollo Education Group) at both the k-12 level but at the higher education level benefit from his legislation. For one thing, Apollo Education Group is directly involved with ALEC and we can see that Sen Alexander takes his bill writing tips from ALEC model bills (as seen above).

Who is Apollo Education Group?

Apollo Education was founded in 1973. It is an international privately run corporation that owns ten for- profit subsidiaries most notably, University of Phoenix.  It also has direct ties to ALEC. As one report states, “As we are now aware, education privatization, for-profit colleges, vouchers and higher education issues are now at the top of ALEC’s to-do list. One of the SCP board members is the VP of Apollo Group – also involved directly with ALEC on pushing education legislation.”

According to a 2014 report Apollo serves as a revolving door for positions of people who also serve politicians including Lamar Alexander:

“Apollo Group, which runs the biggest for-profit college, the University of Phoenix, spent $490,000 in the first quarter of 2014 lobbying in Washington, with $320,000 of that spent on in-house lobbying and the rest divided among lobbying firms stocked with former government staffers who have passed through the revolving door (including) …the Penn Hill Group, featuring Victor Klatt, a former aide at the U.S. Department of Education under then-Secretary Lamar Alexander, now a Senator (R-TN), … Apollo recently also hired a team of revolving door lobbyists from Crossroads Strategies LLC,including former aides to Lott and Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Thad Cochran (R-MS).  Apollo is under investigation by the attorneys general of Florida, Delaware, and Massachusetts, and recently received a broad subpoena from the Department of Education’s Inspector General regarding its business practices.”

19 out of 26 Apollo Education Group lobbyists in 2013-2014 have previously held government jobs.

How They May Curry Favor with Senator Alexander (and others)

In 2009-2010 Apollo “Political Organization for Legislative Leadership” donated $4,000 to Senator Alexander. According to OpenSecrets:

Top Candidate Recipients from Apollo Education Group, 2013-2014

John Kline (R-MN)  $30,600
Matt Salmon (R-AZ)  $13,000
Mark Udall (D-CO)  $12,300
Lamar Alexander (R-TN)  $10,000

Likewise, according to Influence Explorer, two of the top recipients of donations in 2014 from Apollo Education Group were Lamar Alexander and John Klein (R-MN) who together have crafted numerous bills that revise NCLB (mentioned above).

A report from USA Today (2014) states that “With no improvements, the programs and students” such as those in for-profit higher education corporations “would lose eligibility for federal student aid, which can make up as much as 90% of the revenue at for-profit schools. And with the Republicans taking control of the Senate, this legislative effort will have the support of the incoming chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.”

In a broader sense, the PAC called For Profit Education donated more monies to Lamar Alexander ($55,000) and John Kline ($178, 849) in 2014 than any other politicians; You can be sure the bills will favor Apollo’s interests. After all, it’s how we buy education policies these days. Apollo Education Group is the biggest lobbying group in the entire PAC.

Lamar Alexander is also a sponsor of the “GREAT Teachers and Principals Act” which hold colleges of education to the same reform accountability choke hold as their K-12 counterparts. ‘Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals Act’ was introduced June 22nd  by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. Apparently the Department of Education will decide for all of us in the academie how to define and measure student achievement.”

As Ravitch reminds us: “Bottom line: the Alexander plan will destroy public education in the U.S. Do not be fooled: this is not a conservative plan. This is a radical plan. It will send public dollars to backwoods churches and ambitious entrepreneurs. No high-performing nation in the world has vouchers.”



Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.


  1. I have started referring to them as corporate colonizers. Your article supports this analogy. Principals of democracy and local cultures are compromised when neighborhood schools fail. Corporations are then able to dilute the impact of local leaders and families when neighborhoods no longer have schools to facilitate civic virtue and involvement and learning.

      1. I did tweet her. There are so many people waking up to what’s going on and trying to wrap their heads around who’s who and what’s what in this fight to do what’s best for kids in education; people from every angle of the ideological spectrum. Derisive language like that is so condescending. So unhelpful to the cause.

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