A political action committee that favors more funding for charter schools gave $50,000 in December 2021 to the Indiana House Republican Campaign Committee and one of its favored candidates.
Weeks later, House Republicans introduced and began supporting legislation to require public school districts to share funding from property-tax referendums with charter schools.
Is there a connection? Hoosier Republicans have long been ideologically predisposed to school choice in all its forms. They argue state education tax dollars should “follow the child,” whether parents send the child to a public, charter or private school or a for-profit tutoring service.
And it’s not like we couldn’t have seen this coming. Two years ago, the legislature passed a surprise law that says school districts may share referendum dollars with charter schools. Critics speculated the sharing would soon be mandatory.
But you have to believe that campaign contributions matter. Otherwise, why would people and groups that have money – and want influence – keep making them. As Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, supposedly told Woodward and Bernstein, it’s important to follow the money.
House Bill 1072, the legislation in question, was approved by the House on a 52-39 vote on Jan. 27. If the Senate also approves it, districts will have to share referendum revenue with charter schools attended by local students, starting with referendums approved after June 30, 2022.
The pro-charter PAC, called Hoosiers for Great Public Schools, gave $40,000 in December to the House Republican caucus and another $10,000 to Rep. Craig Snow, R-Warsaw. Redistricting put Snow in the same district with far-right Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Milford. House leadership is backing Snow in the primary. The PAC also gave $25,000 in December to the Senate Republican committee.
Hoosiers for Great Public Schools is headed by Bart Peterson, a former Democratic mayor of Indianapolis and now the president and CEO of Christel House International, which operates charter schools in Indianapolis. He said in 2020 that he wanted to close the funding gap between traditional public schools and charter schools. Charter schools can’t raise property taxes to pay for buildings and transportation.
In 2020, an election year, the group gave $200,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee and caucus leadership. It has been one of the top donors to House Republicans for the past two years, while giving nothing to Democratic legislators. All of its money came from $1.1 million in contributions from two non-Hoosier billionaires: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and former Enron energy trader John Arnold.
It’s not the only education organization making campaign contributions. The Indiana State Teachers Association PAC contributed over $107,000 in 2021. Most of it was spread among Democratic legislators but $15,000 went to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.
Hoosiers for Quality Education, a group that favors school choice, including private-school vouchers and education savings accounts, contributed $104,500 in 2021, all of it to Republicans. It gave $20,000 to the House Republican committee and $15,000 to the Senate Republican committee.
All this is politics as usual, but this is what’s upsetting: At the same time House Republicans claim to be helping charter schools, they have approved House Bill 1134, an anti-“critical race theory” bill that, no matter what its supporters say, is aimed at whitewashing teaching about race in America. The bill applies to charter schools and their teachers as well as to traditional public schools.
Over 80% of charter school students in central Indianapolis are Black or Hispanic, and GOP lawmakers want to cancel honest, difficult discussions about race and other “controversial” topics. If Hoosiers for Great Public Schools has any influence with Republican lawmakers, and if they care about students in charter schools, you’d think they would use some of their clout to oppose HB 1134.