PAC gets voucher money to Indiana candidates

The political tiger that used to call itself Hoosiers for Economic Growth has a new name, but it hasn’t changed its stripes. It’s up to the same thing: Funneling money from out-of-state billionaires to state legislative candidates likely to support private-school vouchers.

Now called Hoosiers for Quality Education, the political action committee has spent over a half million dollars this year to influence Indiana elections – including at least $187,500 in large contributions made in the last 10 days to Republican state legislative candidates.

As in the past, the group’s money comes primarily from non-Hoosiers. Some $325,000 – more than half of what it raised this year – was contributed by the American Federation for Children PAC, a pro-voucher group headed by Michigan GOP activist Betsy DeVos.

It got $100,000 from a Hoosier, Fred Klipsch, who organized the group and claimed credit for getting Indiana to adopt school vouchers, expanded charter schools and test-based teacher evaluations in 2011. It also got money from John Bryan, an Oregon industrialist with ties to the Koch Brothers, and Charter Schools USA, the Florida for-profit tapped to run three low-performing Indianapolis schools.

American Federation for Children files its Indiana campaign reports from the Terre Haute office of GOP super lawyer James Bopp, a primary figure behind the Citizens United case in which the Supreme Court overturned restrictions on corporate political giving.

And where does the American Federation for Children PAC get its money? Mostly from heirs to the Walmart fortune, Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Indiana’s voucher program still all about religion

Now in its third year, Indiana’s school voucher program continues to be primarily about one thing: providing taxpayer support for Christian education.

Look at the numbers. There are 314 Indiana schools that are eligible to receive vouchers, according to the state Department of Education. By my count, only 11 are not religious schools. And only four of the religious schools are not Christian schools.

Indiana’s program has been in the news recently with reports that over 20,000 students applied for vouchers this fall, more than twice as many as last year. It’s now the second-biggest voucher program in the country, on track to surpass Milwaukee and become No. 1.

The growth comes even though, as Stephanie Simon pointed out recently in Politico, “there’s little evidence that the investment (in vouchers) yields academic gains.”

Voucher supporters, like Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully, argue the program is good because it lets more parents choose the school they think is best for their children. But as public-education advocates have begun pointing out, “school choice” is an apt name for the program – because the schools, not just parents, get to choose. Continue reading

More news on Daniels-Bennett education agenda

Thanks to Niki Kelly, Statehouse reporter for the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, for a clear and comprehensive story about the education reform proposals that Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett put forward last week.

Kelly focuses on the most potentially controversial elements in the Daniels-Bennett agenda: 1) publicly funded vouchers to pay for students to attend private schools; 2) changes in the way teachers are evaluated; and 3) financial incentives for students to finish high school early.

Bennett and Daniels provided details about their proposals for the 2011 legislative session Wednesday to the Indiana Education Roundtable. You can watch a video of Bennett’s presentation, view PowerPoint slides, and read the Department of Education news release and summary of the proposals.

The agenda includes:

— “Identify and reward great teachers and principals” – merit pay, an end to seniority-based teacher tenure, restrictions on union contacts, etc.
— “Real accountability and flexibility” – more aggressive state action and fewer union restrictions on low-performing schools.
— “High quality options for families” – more charter schools, state funding for students to attend private schools, scholarships for early high-school graduation.

The Education Roundtable (local members: Indiana University President Michael McRobbie and elementary teacher/Republican activist Danny Shields) endorsed two elements of the agenda: new teacher evaluations and early graduation. Continue reading