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Betsy DeVos Watch: One DeVos delivers speech at ALEC conference, while other DeVos family members make ALEC endorsed policies a reality in Michigan

July 23, 2017

Last Thursday, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke at American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) annual meeting in Denver. MLive, like many other media sources chose to focus on how DeVos responded to those who were protesting the ALEC conference, with the MLive headline reading as, DeVos calls out protesters as ‘defenders of status quo’ at conservative political conference

The MLive article primarily cites DeVos, but does give a few sentences to State Superintendent from Michigan. There is no one who was part of the protests who were quoted in the article, despite the fact that they were the subject of the headline.

You can watch the entire speech to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a video that was taken by a TV station in Denver.

The MLive reporter did not verify any of the claims made by Secretary DeVos or provide any information about the mission and work of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC is one of the largest corporate lobbying forces in the US, representing the interests of hundreds of companies, many of which are Fortune 500 companies. ALEC lobbies at the federal and state level to push for policies that will be beneficial to its members. 

ALEC also consists of numerous think tank and non-profit organizations, like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The group that has done more to expose ALEC in recent years is the Center for Media & Democracy (CMD), a group which hosts the important resource known as SourceWatch. The CMD’s data-base on ALEC is extensive and is updated on a regular basis.

One of more intriguing things that DeVos said in her speech, was to give praise to ALEC for the work they do, particularly at the state level.

“You have led the way in helping states across the nation craft innovative solutions to today’s problems: in healthcare, taxes, regulations, entitlements, and importantly, education.”

This statement by DeVos is true, but the MLive reporter doesn’t bother to verify it or provide examples of what the Secretary of Education means by help states craft solutions, which is code for crafting policy.

A recent example in Michigan where ALEC-connected organization collaborated to get policy adopted into law, was the attack on teacher pensions. This would be easy to verify, since ALEC has branches in all 50 states and separate websites for those states, such as the Michigan site, which has as its most recent posting a piece praising the attack on teacher pensions. 

Another important aspect of the Michigan attack on teacher pensions, was the fact that one of the major groups lobbying for the new law on teacher pensions is the West Michigan Policy Forum. The West Michigan Policy Forum, which includes several members of the DeVos Family, is made up of members from the West MI power structure that also has provided substantial political contributions to the Michigan legislators that pushed the new teacher pension laws

A recent Facebook post by the West Michigan Policy Forum underscores the excitement they feel over getting the policy they paid for.

The West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF) sent out a statewide letter today applauding Governor Rick Snyder and lawmakers for their success in making critical changes needed to address the drastically underfunded teacher pension fund. The letter followed the Governor’s signing SB 401 into law today.

The law will:

–Place all new school staff hired after Feb. 1, 2018, into a 401 (k)-style retirement savings account – empowering new teachers by giving portability to their benefits and ensuring their retirement is pre-funded;
–Offer a newly designed hybrid plan for teachers who prefer this alternative;
–Help stabilize $29 billion in previously unfunded retirement promises, which has been draining money away from classroom funding;
–Limit risk and increases stability for school districts and kids in the future.

“The state’s lawmakers collaborated on addressing Michigan’s unfunded liabilities in a way that reduces tax payers’ risks well into the future,” says John Kennedy, chairman, West Michigan Policy Forum. “This allows school districts to keep recruiting great teachers and ensure that the state keeps its promises to current teachers and retirees.”

The WMPF letter says the innovative leadership that the team of elected officials displayed shows a true commitment to a long-term vision for our state.

In the letter sent to more than 1,500 business and community leaders throughout Michigan, the WMPF specifically called out the leadership of Senator Phil Pavlov R- St. Clair; Representative Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, and Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt.

Reforming Michigan’s unfunded liabilities will continue to be a top priority for WMPF as other public pensions and retiree healthcare benefits will be addressed. During the 2016 WMPF bi-annual conference, a report and full review of the dangers of unfunded retirement promises and the looming problems in MI’s local governments were presented.

Kennedy says WMPF members believe Michigan will be a model for the nation as it continues the hard work of addressing these crucial issues. He says, “By enacting these changes into law, Michigan legislators have offered more certainty today that Michigan will remain a good place to create jobs and raise their families.”

The MLive article completed missed the boat on being able to connect the Betsy DeVos speech at the ALEC conference in Denver last week, to how ALEC works at the state level, to how other members of the DeVos Family play a role in helping to craft state policy.

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