New Model Legislation Available for Policymakers

Published October 26, 2009

As part of its continuing efforts to equip state legislators with innovative public policy solutions, the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Education Task Force will wrap up 2009 with five new pieces of K-12-focused “model legislation”—bills legislators can introduce in 2010 to promote effective changes in their states’ schooling systems.

The Public School Financial Transparency Act, the Innovation Schools and School Districts Act, the Personal Financial Literacy Act, the Parental Choice Scholarship Accountability Act, and the Parental Choice Scholarship Tax Credit Accountability Act were passed by ALEC’s Education Task Force and approved by ALEC’s board of directors over the past several months.

“I’m confident ALEC’s new model bills can bring positive change to American education and allow legislators to think differently about how education is provided in their states,” said Colorado state Sen. Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), public sector chairman of ALEC’s Education Task Force. At the group’s summer meeting, Spence sponsored the Innovation Schools and School Districts Act, a model bill meant to provide charter-like opportunities for states that have limited or no charter laws.

Transparency Model

Fellow Coloradan Pam Benigno, director of the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute in Golden, also introduced ALEC model legislation at the group’s summer meeting, the Public School Financial Transparency Act. Colorado’s experience with school district transparency legislation (Senate Bill 09-57) highlighted the need, as Benigno saw it, to craft a specific policy to suit the structure of local education agencies while allowing the public to see line-item details of school district expenditures.

“This act provides legislators with the ‘gold standard’ for financial transparency,” said Benigno, who consulted with national experts while crafting the bill’s language. “If enacted, this legislation should help to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and to build trust between school officials and the citizens who employ them.”

Financial Literacy

While Benigno’s bill is intended to allow greater understanding of what is going on in states’ public schools, a model bill by Oklahoma State Representative Ann Coody (R-Lawton) deals with what isn’t going on in schools. The Personal Financial Literacy Act would require the teaching of personal financial literacy to public school students and require them to pass the subject in order to graduate.

“Business people and economic specialists have stressed the importance of personal financial literacy,” Coody said. “Indeed, this is something other states should consider, if they haven’t already. I believe this can help develop a more financially literate citizenry by emphasizing the importance of financial responsibility at an early age.”

Accountability Models

Other model bills approved by ALEC in 2009—the Parental Choice Scholarship Act and the Tax Credit Accountability Act—are intended to strengthen ALEC’s existing myriad of private school choice legislation by adding more extensive reporting requirements.

“[Task Force members] know school choice works, and so we are comfortable requiring even greater accountability for school choice programs,” said Scott Jensen, national consultant for state projects at the Alliance for School Choice in Washington, DC.

“We chose to proactively offer responsible and effective school choice accountability legislation because so many of our opponents use ‘accountability’ as their excuse for trying to strangle these programs with excessive and unworkable regulations,” added Jensen, who introduced the two bills within ALEC.

In order to become official ALEC model legislation, bills must receive majority approval from ALEC’s public- and private-sector Task Force members. Only task force members can introduce and vote on model legislation.

David J. Myslinski ([email protected]) is legislative manager for the Education and Health and Human Services Task Forces at the American Legislative Exchange Council in Washington, DC.