‘Dems for Education Reform’ wade into state debates

A new organization called Indiana Democrats for Education Reform says it’s taking a bipartisan approach to the school-reform debate playing out at the Statehouse.

Like Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett, Indiana DFER backs more charter schools, radical turn-around efforts for low-performing public schools, and performance-based evaluation of teachers. But it parts company with Daniels and Bennett in opposing taxpayer-funded private school vouchers and supporting more generous funding for education.

In only a couple of weeks, the group has launched an impressive website, a lively blog and an energetic media campaign. It filed as an Indiana political action committee on Jan. 10.

The public face of Indiana DFER is Larry Grau, president of the Pike Township school board on Indianapolis’ northwest side and an education adviser a decade ago to Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon.

The group is the state-level manifestation of Democrats for Education Reform, an organization aligned with the reform-friendly policies of President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

For a skeptical take, see the DFER Watch blog, where Ken Libby describes Democrats for Education Reform as “a political action committee supported largely by hedge fund managers favoring charter schools, merit-pay tied to test scores, high-stakes testing, school choice (including vouchers and tuition tax credits in some cases), mayoral control, and alternative teacher preparation programs.”

Resistance from Indiana educators

Taking a different approach is the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, a new group that’s being organized by active and retired educators to counter the Daniels-Bennett agenda.

“The education folks in the state of Indiana aren’t necessarily in agreement with a lot of the things coming out of the governor’s office,” Chris McGrew, an organizer of the group and a former consultant with the Indiana Department of Education, tells the Lafayette Journal and Courier. “(They wonder), what methods are you using to determine if schools are failures?”

Members of the group have been quoted in some news media coverage of Statehouse education debates, but it doesn’t yet seem to have a website or a way to get involved.

Vouchers for police protection?

This opinion column in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette is worth sharing with anyone who thinks there’s something wrong with the arguments in favor of charter schools and vouchers.

If schools have “failed,” columnist Tracy Warner suggests, so have police departments – there’s still all this crime, after all. So shouldn’t we be able to opt out of “government” policing and choose to be protected by a charter police force run by, say, a local technical school?

“But that’s not enough,” he writes. “Rich people can hire security guards. Why shouldn’t all Hoosiers have the same access to safety? Let’s give every Hoosier who wants one a voucher financed with our tax dollars to purchase their own security if they choose.”

Charter schools legislation moving through Indiana House

Give some credit to Speaker Brian Bosma for keeping a partially open mind on the charter-schools bill that he’s pushing through the Indiana House of Representatives.

Bosma, R-Indianapolis, is co-author of the legislation, which expands sponsors of charter schools to include private colleges and universities, a statewide charter schools board, and mayors of cities of the second class, such as Bloomington. Under current law, only local school corporations, public universities and the mayor of Indianapolis can sponsor charter schools.

The legislation, House Bill 1002, was the subject of a five-hour hearing Wednesday before the House Education Committee. On Monday at 10:30 a.m., the committee is scheduled to consider amendments and then vote to send the bill to the full House for more debate.

There’s a lot to the bill, and it’s worth a careful read – although there may be significant amendments.

It includes the “parent trigger” provision that Gov. Mitch Daniels has touted: If the parents of 51 percent of students in a low-performing school sign a petition, they can convert it to a charter school.

Another provision requires public school corporations to lease unused or “under-utilized” buildings to local charter schools for $1 a year. Continue reading