Pro-charter money bankrolls Indiana GOP

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has given another $700,000 to a pro-charter-school Indiana PAC, which has funneled a big chunk of the money to supporting Republican legislative candidates.

The PAC – called, without apparent irony, Hoosiers for Great Public Schools – reported only one contribution in its 2022 pre-primary campaign finance report, covering Jan. 1 to April 8: the one from Hastings, a California resident with a net worth estimated between $4 billion and $6 billion.

Hoosiers for Great Public Schools then gave $100,000 to another PAC, Hoosiers for Quality Education, which favors school choice in all its forms, including private school vouchers. Hoosiers for Quality Education has made over $600,000 in contributions this year, all to Republicans. Most has gone to GOP House candidates who are favored by caucus leaders and are in contested primaries.

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Session could have been worse for education

The 2022 session of the Indiana General Assembly produced plenty of bad news, but at least there’s this: When it comes to education, it could have been worse. Much worse.

Republican legislators failed in their all-out effort to ban the teaching of what they misleadingly call “critical race theory” in schools. They also fell short in their efforts to politicize school board elections, encourage book-banning, and make public schools share funding with charter schools.

Indiana Statehouse
Indiana Statehouse

Their one truly harmful action regarding schools was the approval of House Bill 1041, which prohibits transgender girls from playing girls’ sports. This cruel legislation was designed for one purpose only: to toss a bone to the GOP’s right wing. Maybe – hopefully — Gov. Eric Holcomb will veto it.

Other than that, Republicans wasted people’s time and energy with lots of sound and fury about education, but it ultimately signified almost nothing.

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Days of the living dead

This is the season of the zombie bills, the bad bills that refuse to die. You think you’ve driven a stake through their heart, but they rise and keep coming. Or so it seems.

For example, House Bill 1134, Indiana Republicans’ response to the phony outrage over schools teaching “critical race theory,” faced overwhelming public opposition. It was supposedly dead after the Senate failed to approve it by a deadline. Then it wasn’t: Legislative leaders said they would revive parts of the bill. Then it was dead again when they couldn’t agree on how to do that. But will it stay dead?

We won’t know until the session is adjourned.

As approved by the House, HB 1134 would have banned teaching about certain “divisive concepts,” required teachers to post lesson plans online, let parents sue over supposed violations, and so on. A Senate committee removed some of the worst provisions; but the Senate Republican caucus, after an apparently contentious closed-door meeting, let the bill die.

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Homeschool ‘bridge’ program works to keep funding

Indiana legislators have given a green light – for now — to a school that helps parents use state education dollars to buy Hulu subscriptions, museum memberships and American Girl dolls.

The school, Tech Trep Academy, operates through an arrangement with Cloverdale Community Schools. The state considers it a virtual or online school, but in fact it’s part of a growing trend of “bridge” programs that combine the freedom of homeschooling with public funding.

It opened in 2020, recruiting homeschool families with a promise of $1,700 per student to spend on educational products and programs. State officials warned that was an illegal enrollment incentive, so the school switched to offering points that could be traded for goods and services.

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Opposition to HB 1134 is strong and diverse

UPDATE: Senate Republicans are offering an amendment to HB 1134, which will be discussed in the committee meeting Wednesday. Some details are here.

House Bill 1134 was supposed to divide us. It was designed to pit parents against teachers, white people against people of color, city folks against Indiana’s rural population. It looks like it may be having the opposite effect.

We’re seeing strong and unified opposition to the bill, which would restrict what teachers can say about “divisive concepts” like race and force them to post lessons online so parents can opt out.

Indiana Statehouse

Opposition is coming from teachers’ organizations across the state, with the Indiana State Teachers Association calling on members to pack the Statehouse this week to stop HB 1134.

It’s coming from individual teachers, who warn that the bill could lead to a mass exodus of educators, who simply can’t do their job well under the restrictions it would impose.

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No partisan school board elections – for now

Here’s a rare bit of good news from the Indiana Statehouse: Lawmakers have dropped their effort to turn local school board elections into partisan affairs. At least for now.

Republican legislators filed seven bills – five in the House and two in the Senate – to either require school board candidates to declare a party affiliation or give them that option. Only one bill was given a hearing, however, and it was never called for a vote. That means the bills are dead for this session.

In their place, both the House and Senate have advanced legislation to require school boards – but not other local government boards – to allow public comment during their meetings.

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History ‘lives in us’ despite lawmakers’ efforts

The novelist William Faulkner famously wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Someone should remind Indiana legislators, who are trying to nail down what students can learn about history.

They seem to think history and the past are a set of indisputable facts, frozen in amber. Yes, historical facts exist, but our understanding of them and our relationship with them is always changing.

“No historian will stray from the facts,” Indiana University historian Eric Sandweiss told me. “And yet every history student and scholar know they are building on the facts. They are finding new facts that haven’t been found before, and they are seeing them and connecting them in new ways.”

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Lawmakers to consider restrictions on teaching about race

Legislation aimed at preventing students – including high school and college students – from being exposed to certain ideas about race and American history will be discussed this week at the Statehouse.

Bills have been filed in both the House and Senate to set parameters for teaching and learning about race, sex, religion and other potentially divisive topics. One of them, Senate Bill 167, is set for a hearing Wednesday morning before the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.

Indiana Statehouse

The first thing to know about these bills is that they aren’t original or unique to Indiana. They are part of a coordinated national campaign against so-called critical race theory, with similar versions having been filed or passed in dozens of states. The language is copied from an executive order by former President Donald Trump and from “model bills” promulgated by right-wing advocacy groups.

The second thing to know is that they are, at best, a solution in search of a problem. The folks pushing them seem to think Hoosier teachers are woke activists pushing a leftist agenda centered on identity politics. They aren’t. Teachers are like everyone else: some are liberal, some are conservative – some are very conservative – and many don’t care about politics.

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Legislators to clarify ‘immunization passport’ ban applies to schools

Indiana legislators are planning to make clear that a ban on COVID-19 “immunization passports” applies to public schools, charter schools and state colleges and universities.

The language is part of draft legislation scheduled for discussion this morning by the House and Senate Rules and Legislative Procedures committees. Lawmakers plan to pass the bill in a one-day session Nov. 29 to bring Indiana’s public health emergency to an end.

The legislature hurriedly adopted a ban on immunization passports last spring, but it wasn’t clear if even they knew what it meant or whom it applied to. The bill said the ban covered any “state or local unit” of government. That could have arguably meant public school corporations, but it almost certainly didn’t mean state universities, based on definitions in state law. Charter schools? Who knows?

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Teachers push to bargain for working conditions

Indiana teachers are pushing to regain the right to bargain collectively for working conditions, which the state legislature took away a decade ago. At a news conference Monday, Indiana State Teachers Association officials called on lawmakers to support bargaining on class size limits, prep time and safety conditions.

ISTA President Keith Gambill said the COVID-19 pandemic, now impacting a third school year, has made it urgent for the state to address teachers’ working conditions. “Our educators, already overburdened, are facing unsustainable levels of stress and stress-related illness,” he said.

Keith Gambill (ISTA photo)

Gambill said poor working conditions and a lack of respect have caused many educators to retire early or leave the field, contributing to statewide shortages. An Indiana State University survey found that 96% of Indiana schools are experiencing teacher shortages.

Prodded by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, the legislature voted in 2011 to limit teacher collective bargaining to pay and benefits, such as health insurance. The measure was part of a package of K-12 education laws that also included the creation of a private school voucher program and an expansion of charter schools.

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