Reading politico.com’s daily education brief today is like being trapped in a nightmare and wishing you could wake up. In this case, it is not a bad dream, it is an ugly reality with familiar faces intent on giving public dollars to private and for-profit schools. Add to that the reports of students fearful for their future, and the outlines of an frightening new world emerge.
Politico reports that Indiana’s approach to school reform–based on privatization–will guide the Trump education reformers. The key to Trump reform is diverting public dollars to charters–including for-profit charters and virtual charters–and vouchers for religious schools.
HOOSIER POLICIES HEAD TO WASHINGTON: The same players who sparked intense education battles in Indiana – and transformed schools in the Hoosier State – are poised to enact those policies on a national stage. Just as George W. Bush brought Texas-style accountability to the Education Department and President Barack Obama tapped Chicago basketball buddy Arne Duncan, Donald Trump’s education policies are expected to reflect the Indiana imprint of Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Already, three Hoosiers key in shaping Indiana’s school choice landscape are considered contenders to serve as Trump’s education secretary: Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University; former Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett; and Rep. Luke Messer, a former state representative who served as executive director for School Choice Indiana when the state’s 2011 school choice law was passed under Daniels’ watch. Indiana ties also played a role in Trump’s selection of the campaign staffer who helped him craft his $20 billion school choice plan that encourages vouchers and charter schools: Robert Goad, an aide on loan from Messer.
– Pence used his platform as Indiana governor to aggressively expand a voucher program that allows taxpayer money to flow to religious private schools. Pence also pushed for more charter schools, and choice has now become a defining element of Trump’s vision for education. Indiana’s voucher program allows nearly 33,000 students to go to private school on the public’s dime – making it the single largest voucher program of any state in the country. John Jacobson, dean of Teachers College at Ball State University, said the state’s voucher program hasn’t been around long enough to fully understand the long-term impact. Because of that, Jacobson said, “I would hope they are cautious at the national level.” Has Indiana’s voucher program been a positive change for families? “If you were to ask a parent who received a voucher to a school of their choice, they would say yes,”Jacobson said. “For the general public, I think it’s been difficult for the public to accept, taking public dollars and allocating that to private entities.”
Bennett, you may recall, was at the center off a grade-fixing scandal. The grades of a charter school founded by a major campaign contributor were mysteriously increased by adjusting the formula for calculating grades. Bennett was defeated in his bid for re-election as state chief in Indiana, but quickly hired by Florida as chief (he is a protege of Jeb Bush). He resigned as chief in Florida after the grade-fixing scandal broke.