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Spotlight Hits ALEC After Trayvon Martin Shooting

Readers may be familiar with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative nonprofit group which writes model legislation for state lawmakers on a variety of issues. Veteran Education Week reporters Sean Cavanagh and Catherine Gewertz have reported on the group's support for proposed parent-trigger legislation, and its push against the Common Core State Standards.

So it's worth noting that ALEC, which does not crave public attention for its positions on education or anything else, has been dragged into the spotlight after the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida and the subsequent national controversy. As you might imagine, the story here is not ALEC's position on the Common Core. Instead, ALEC is getting scrutinized for supporting "Stand Your Ground" legislation, which aims to broaden self-defense laws and could become a major legal controversy in the Trayvon Martin shooting going forward.

The news today is more suitable for boardrooms than classrooms: Coca-Cola announced Thursday that it had discontinued its membership in ALEC, which consists of both public- and private-sector members. PepsiCo said it was leaving ALEC in January, while Kraft Foods also announced this week that it was letting its membership in the council expire later this year. (Does all this mean fewer boxed lunch options for ALEC conferences?)

More liberal-minded activist groups, some of which had recently announced boycotts against Coca-Cola for its ALEC involvement, are celebrating the news as a victory against ALEC, although Coca-Cola does not specifically target "Stand Your Ground" laws for criticism in its statement, and several companies, such as Pfizer, appear to be sticking with ALEC, which in turn said that it would welcome Coca-Cola back into the fold if the company changed its mind.

So, no immediate state policy news to report from this. But given ALEC's position in the education policy world in many states, it's interesting when the group makes the news, even if that news evokes sandwiches and soda more so than parent-trigger laws. What does a story like this mean for ALEC's influence going forward?

UPDATE: Add the Gates Foundation to the list of groups severing ties with ALEC. Roll Call reported Monday that the foundation will no longer provide funding support to the group. Unlike the decisions by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Kraft to sever ties with ALEC recently, Gates' disassociation from ALEC rings education policy bells. Although Gates was not an official dues-paying ALEC member, it did provide a $376,000 grant to the conservative nonprofit in November 2011 to help states improve student outcomes and develop new methods of teacher evaluation based on merit and achievement. A spokesman for the Gates Foundation said it will not be providing future grants to ALEC. (The foundation also provides support to Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week.)

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