School voucher backers help oust pro-union Republican

State Sen. John Waterman is as solid a conservative as you’ll find: a former sheriff who is tough on crime, 100 percent pro-gun, stingy with money and endorsed by Indiana Right to Life. He has just one flaw, and for a Republican politician, it’s fatal. He supports unions, including teachers’ unions that back public schools.

That was enough to get him taken out in last week’s GOP primary after representing his rural Western Indiana district since 1994. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce put a target on his back, ostensibly because he voted against the so-called right-to-work law that Indiana adopted in 2012. The Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity threw in with undisclosed funding for ads.

But key money – big, late contributions that may have helped push his opponent, Eric Bassler, over the top – came from forces whose agenda is promoting private school vouchers. Bassler won with 51.3 percent of the vote, even though the Senate Republican caucus backed Waterman.

Bassler got $15,230 in the week before the election from Hoosiers for Economic Growth, which is not funded by Hoosiers and doesn’t focus on economic growth. It functions as the Indiana arm of American Federation for Children, a national pro-voucher group led by mega-donor Betsy DeVos.

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PAC spending on legislative races could influence next year’s education debates

They’re back. Hoosiers for Economic Growth, the political action committee that took credit for getting Indiana to enact sweeping education changes in 2011, is spending big money to ensure the Republican Party maintains or extends its majorities in the state House and Senate.

HEG spent three quarters of a million dollars in the pre-election period of April to October, according to its campaign finance report. Virtually all the money went to contributions to Republican legislative candidates. It gave exactly zero to Democrats.

Much of the group’s money, in turn, has come from the American Federation for Children, a national pro-voucher organization that shares an address with Terre Haute lawyer Jim Bopp, is run by conservative activists in Michigan and gets its money from East Coast hedge-fund managers and the Walton family.

Recall that HEG chairman Fred Klipsch boasted this summer that it and several affiliated groups spent $4.4 million to push through the 2011 education policies, including school vouchers, an expansion of charter schools, and performance-based evaluation and merit pay for teachers.

What kind of education votes in 2013 will HEG want in exchange for its campaign support? Continue reading

Bloomberg, voucher advocates putting up money for Bennett

Look who’s deploying some of his considerable financial clout to influence who we Hoosiers elect as superintendent of public instruction this fall. It’s billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who donated $40,000 last month to the re-election campaign of Republican Superintendent Tony Bennett.

Bloomberg, as mayor, has championed some of the same policies that Bennett has pushed in Indiana: more charter schools, test-based evaluations of teachers, etc. But it’s not like Bennett needs the money. He’s sitting on more than a half million dollars, and there’s no way his Democratic opponent, Glenda Ritz, will ever come close to that.

Ritz, an elementary school teacher in Washington Township schools on the north side of Indianapolis, did get $30,000 last month from the political action committee of the Indiana State Teachers Association. Well, it’s a start.

Bennett, meanwhile, got June campaign contributions of $25,000 from Merrillville hotel developer Dean White, $50,000 from charter school founder Christel DeHaan and $25,000 from Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Aiming Higher PAC.

On June 29, the same day he recorded the Bloomberg donation, Bennett also got $25,000 from Hoosiers for Economic Growth. As School Matters reported previously, the money behind HEG doesn’t come from Hoosiers and it has nothing to do with economic growth. Continue reading

Money talks in the Indiana school voucher debate

“Follow the money,” Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, famously told the young reporters in All the President’s Men. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette took that advice to heart for an editorial on the push for school vouchers in the Indiana legislature, and here’s what it found.

The “loudest voice” supporting publicly funded vouchers for students attending private schools is the Indianapolis-based Foundation for Educational Choice, the J-G says. The chairman of the foundation’s board is Utah businessman Patrick Byrne, CEO of online retailer Overstock.com., who has given $125,000 since 2007 to Gov. Mitch Daniels’ political campaigns and another $25,000 to Aiming Higher, Daniels’ political action committee.

Byrne also gave $15,000 to the campaign fund of Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Bennett and $200,000 to Hoosiers for Economic Growth, a PAC that spent money last year primarily to produce a Republican majority in the state legislature. Four other trustees of the Foundation for Educational Choice gave campaign money to Daniels and Bennett.

“In the absence of data and public support for school vouchers, the influence of campaign contributions speaks loudly,” the Journal-Gazette argues. “Public education supporters will need to speak even louder in the weeks ahead to protect Indiana schools and students.”

Follow the money a bit further and you see that Hoosiers for Economic Growth gave money in 2010 to Rep. Robert Behning, chairman of House Education Committee, and Sen. Dennis Kruse, chairman of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee Continue reading