Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Monday, March 10, 2014

More ALEC-inspired CRONY CAPITALISM in the Arizona Legislature

HB2485, based on ALEC model legislation to provide technology-based instruction for English language learners, was introduced by Rep. Rick Gray (R-LD21/Sun City) to establish extremely narrow parameters for which apparently only one vendor could possibly submit a qualifying proposal.
Lobbyist Warde Nichols admitted to Capitol Media Services that HB2485 came from Imagine Learning, a Utah-based firm whose specialties include program [sic] to help “English language learners,” students who come to school speaking another language and who are not proficient in English. And Imagine Learning even paid for a group of Arizona lawmakers to visit their Utah offices and Utah schools last fall where the company already has sold its product.
The legislation... is quite specific on what has to be in the software.
For example, it requires not only immediate feedback for students but says the software “must provide scaffolding through illustrations, front-loaded vocabulary, audio support, interactive glossary words, instruction feedback, strategic questions and adaptive content that provides extra practice as needed.”

Warde Nichols represented Chandler and Gilbert in the Arizona House from 2003 through 2010. On his House bio page, he described himself as "self employed, runs a pool serve and repair business." Apparently, no longer needing to be a pool man, he represents Imagine Learning in the Arizona House.

From Howard Fischer's story,
Nichols insisted that the requirement for the state to buy “technology-based language development and literacy intervention software” is not written so that only Imagine Learning can bid on it.
That’s also the contention of House Majority Whip Rick Gray, R-Glendale, one of the legislators who went on that Utah trip and the sponsor of the legislation. [...]
Stephen Gardner, the Tucson-based senior vice president for sales and marketing for Scientific Learning, said that’s the way it appears to his firm.
He said that HB2485 sets up not only goals, but very specific methods of how instruction must be offered and the software must work.
“We don’t do it exactly that way,” he said.
Lawmakers are supposed to be in the business of setting public policy but NOT writing the RFPs (Requests for Proposals). Gray, when confronted by Fischer tried to weasel his way out of this by saying he would be willing to amend the bill to accommodate multiple bidders. But let's face it.

Crony lobbyist and former House member brings an ALEC model bill to ALEC-member Rick Gray and somehow "convinces" him to run his bill. Did I mention the amounts of money at stake in this process? 
Gray’s original measure sought $12 million a year for the next three years for statewide implementation. But he agreed to instead create a three-year pilot program for 10 school districts and five charter schools.
How much that will cost is not known: The legislation approved by the House has a blank where the funding should go, a fact that bothered Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, who voted against the plan.
It might sound vulgar for me to bring up the K word (kickbacks), but given the nature of the relationship between lobbyists and ALEC-owned Arizona state lawmakers, is it really unreasonable?

Well, I AM going to bring up the idea of kickbacks because the APPEARANCE of impropriety already exists and it stinks to high heaven.

About that ALEC connection? Fischer reports,
Key provisions of HB2485 are taken nearly word-for-word from model legislation approved by the business-supported American Legislative Exchange Council. And Imagine Learning is one of the top funders of ALEC, as shown by its “chairman’s level” status along with tobacco giant Altria, Peabody Energy, Chevron and drug maker Bayer.
Gray said he had not seen the ALEC model legislation. But he said there is no reason to reject the idea just because it came from ALEC — and from one of its prime members.
“It’s interesting when it comes to all this uproar about ALEC,” he said.
“Like, legislators shouldn’t be listening to the business,” Gray continued. He said everyone at the Legislature from both parties needs to listen to all sources, including constituents, lobbyists and the business community.
“That’s how we function and learn,” he said.
Besides the fact that Gray was repeating bullshit that has been said by lawmakers for eons, "that's how we function and learn" is incredibly tone deaf. For crying out loud, Rick, do you not hear yourself?

Remember that bubble Jennifer Dokes wrote about in the Republic in the wake of SB1062?
They were either clueless or arrogant. Either way, they didn’t bother to venture outside their bubble, which is not a good position from which to move a changing, diverse state forward.
Had Gray, on this bill, bothered to venture outside of the bubble in which he and his colleagues operate, he would have been able to figure out that he was writing the procedures, not simply the policy. It REALLY does NOT take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

By the way, Gray got quite a few Democrats (13 House and Senate Dems signed on as sponsors and 8 House Dems voted Aye to send the bill to the Senate) to tag along for the ALEC-inspired ride this time. When they signed on as sponsors, they probably didn't realize the specificity with which they would be complicit. But by the time they voted it out of the House, they had had ample opportunity to figure it out.

Passing by a vote of 34-24, without fooling those 8 education minded Democrats to vote with him, Gray's bill would have failed to make it out of the House. 

Because of crony capitalism, Warde Nichols and Imagine Learning are well on their way to a reserved seat, no competition necessary, at a multi-million dollar feeding trough courtesy of Arizona taxpayers.

By the way, kudos to Fischer for digging up and digging in to this story. It's an important one.

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