Pence’s big donors include charter, voucher advocates

As the Indianapolis Star reported last week, Gov. Mike Pence raked in more than $800,000 in large campaign contributions in the weeks leading up to a July 1 fundraising deadline.

The bulk of the money came from wealthy business officials, many of them with ties to the coal, utility, road construction and nursing home industries. But some big donations came from supporters of education policies that Pence has championed. They include:

  • $25,000 from Fred Klipsch of Carmel, founder and chairman of Hoosiers for Quality Education, a leading pro-voucher organization. Klipsch boasted in 2012 that he had put together the campaign funding to overcome teacher opposition and push through legislative approval of the Mitch Daniels-Tony Bennett education agenda, including vouchers and charter schools.
  • $25,000 from John D. Bryan of Lake Oswego, Ore., a retired business executive known as a major donor to national conservative PACs like Freedom Works and the Club for Growth. He is founder and director of Challenge Foundation, which operators several charter schools, including the Indianapolis Academy of Excellence. He has given nearly $600,000 to Republican campaigns in Indiana, including $145,000 to Pence’s campaigns for governor.
  • $10,000 from Roger Hertog of New York, former chairman of the Manhattan Institute and a donor to national conservative causes. Hertog has contributed to Success Academy and other charter schools and commissioned a study of benefits of New York charter schools.
  • $10,000 from Robert L. Luddy of Raleigh, N.C., who runs a group of private schools and who provided much of the campaign financing for school board candidates who overturned a model school desegregation program in Wake County, N.C., schools.

Three Democrats, former House Speaker John Gregg, Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and state Sen. Karen Tallian, are seeking to challenge Pence. Gregg raised over $400,000 in large contributions in the weeks leading up to July 1. Tallian listed only a $20,000 transfer from her state senate campaign fund. Ritz reported no large contributions.

Candidates are required to file reports of their complete campaign fund-raising and spending for the first half of 2015 by July 15. Large donations – those of $10,000 or more – must be reported within a week of when they are received.

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House budget shifts funding to schools in affluent areas

The Indiana House Republicans vowed to equalize school funding, and that’s what they are doing with the budget they put forward this week. They’re doing it by taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

Their state budget and school funding formula cuts 25 percent — $290 million – from the complexity index, the formula Indiana uses to steer extra money to high-poverty schools.

The result is predictable: more money for school districts with few poor students, and less money for districts with many poor students. The 10 lowest-poverty districts get per-pupil increases ranging from 4.4 percent to 6 percent. The 10 highest-poverty districts all get their per-pupil funding cut.

High-poverty school districts will still get more money, per pupil, than low-poverty districts. But the gap narrows. Schools with the most challenging demographics will do with less.

That said, the House plan would do better by public schools than Gov. Mike Pence’s budget proposal. It provides more money: Increases of 2.3 percent each of the next two years compared to Pence’s 2 percent the first year and 1 percent the second year. And under Pence’s proposal, fully 30 percent of the K-12 funding increase in fiscal 2016 would have gone to charter schools, which serve less than 3 percent of Indiana students.

The House plan keeps Pence’s $1,500-per-pupil grant program for charter schools. But unlike the governor’s it would fund the grant with a $20 million per year budget line – it wouldn’t take the money out of the pot for regular public schools. And the charter-school grants could pay only for buildings, technology and transportation, not for teacher salaries and regular operating expenses. Continue reading

‘Education budget’ would shortchange public schools

Following up on the George Orwell theme from last month: War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. And Gov. Mike Pence’s state budget proposal is an education budget.

OK, that’s a bit harsh. But public-school supporters probably rolled their eyes when they read that the governor announced his plan by declaring, “This is an education budget.”

First, at a time when Republicans and Democrats in the legislature are saying they want to make school funding a priority, Pence’s budget increases state spending on K-12 schools by just 2 percent in fiscal 2016 and 1 percent in 2017. That’s not enough to keep pace with inflation, let alone to help schools recover from the funding cuts they endured several years ago.

But the worst of it is that much of Pence’s funding increase wouldn’t go to regular public schools. He wants to give an extra $1,500 per pupil to all Indiana charter schools. That would cost $41 million a year at current charter enrollment – a big chunk of the proposed $134 million increase in fiscal 2016.

In other words, 30 percent of the new money will go to charter schools that serve less than 3 percent of Indiana’s public-school students.

Continue reading

Indiana ‘teacher choice’ initiative raises questions

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence wants to provide financial incentives for teachers to transfer to charter schools or underperforming public schools. It’s an interesting idea, but other states have tried it with mixed results. Have we learned from their experience?

Included in Senate Bill 264, Pence’s proposal would give $10,000 a year for up to two years to any teacher who moves to a charter school where at least half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches or any public school that got a grade of D or F.

The proposal raises questions. Here are a few:

  • Why isn’t it targeted to schools that are likely to need help? Fifty percent free-and-reduced-price lunch isn’t exactly high-poverty; the average FRL rate for Indiana public schools is 49 percent. And nearly one in five schools got a D or F last year.
  • Why not limit the program to teachers who are likely to be successful? A similar program in Washington, D.C., for example, requires teachers to have been rated “highly effective” to qualify for incentive payments. Not so the Indiana legislation. Continue reading

Bill signing highlights state support for sectarian schools

The setting was significant Thursday when Gov. Mike Pence signed House Bill 1003, which expands Indiana’s school voucher program. He signed it at Calvary Christian School, a small Pentecostal school on the south side of Indianapolis that enrolls voucher students.

The governor praised the voucher expansion for giving more “choice” to parents and students. However, you can only choose Calvary Christian if it chooses to let you in. “Families expect a higher level of achievement and behavior at CCS,” the school’s handbook says, “and as such the admission process requires that incoming students’ records be carefully reviewed.”

What about children with special needs? “We do not have the staffing to educate children that are in special needs classrooms,” says an FAQ on the school’s website.

And what will students learn? According to the website, the curriculum includes textbooks from fundamentalist Bob Jones University Publishing, which feature creationism based on a literal reading of the Christian Bible and an ideologically slanted view of America’s place in the world. Continue reading

Voucher expansion would undermine public education

Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett sold Indiana’s voucher program with the argument that children shouldn’t be stuck in failing schools because their parents can’t afford anything better – that children have a right to a good education “regardless of background, income or zip code.”

But the changes now being pushed by Gov. Mike Pence and some legislators suggest the program has nothing to do with social justice. They want to award vouchers to students who have never enrolled in public schools – and in some cases, to families that clearly don’t need help paying private school tuition.

Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education isn’t exaggerating when he writes that these proposals are steps toward a universal voucher system, “a goal that would eventually undermine and marginalize the non-partisan, non-sectarian public schools that for over a hundred years have brought people from all walks of life together in our communities and have undergirded our democracy with citizenship education and our economy with college and career readiness.”

The first test is Senate Bill 184, scheduled for a vote today in the Senate Education and Career Development Committee. It would provide vouchers to siblings of previous voucher students, even if they haven’t met the current requirement of first attending public schools.

The Indiana voucher program, billed as the nation’s most extensive when it was adopted in 2011, provides public funding for low and moderate-income families to send their children to private schools, most of which are religious schools. The family income cutoff is 277 percent of the federal poverty level – about $67,000 for a family of four.

Pence, in his State of the State address, said that’s not enough of a handout and the state should go further. Continue reading