Governor Mike Pence of Indiana never gets tired of finding new ways to support charter schools, and he doesn't appear to be too worried about who he has to shaft to do it.
As reported in the Indy Star, Pence earlier this year convinced the Indiana legislature to set aside a few truckloads of free money for charter schools.
This was actually a compromise of sorts. Pence's goal had been to get a $1,500 bonus payment for each charter student, arguing that this would give charters the money to build to match the kind of money that public schools get through property taxes, an argument that kind of hurts my head because of course those same property tax dollars are used to fund charter schools. So Pence's argument was, I guess, that charter schools should get public tax dollars, and then they should get more public tax dollars.
Why is that "conservative" lawmakers so often support the most inefficient, expensive system of education possible? As public school systems are strapped for cash, the universally react the same way-- they close schools, because fewer buildings are cheaper to operate. But in charterland, we open more buildings and flood the school system with excess capacity, all of which must be paid for by the taxpayers.
Charter supporters are the shoppers saying, "Look. A 12 oz can of Dr. Pepper costs less than a two-liter bottle. There for, instead of getting one two-liter bottle, we should get a case of cans. That's cheaper, right?"
Ultimately, lawmakers balked at the $20 million price tag for the charter bonus, and as a "compromise" okayed only $500, plus a charter loan fund of $50 million.
Charters will pay a whopping 1% interest on the loans, meaning that the taxpayers of Indiana could have done almost as well taking $50 million and burying it in a jar in the back yard. And that's assuming that the loans are paid back. Back in 2013 the state paid off $90 million dollars in charter loans, which makes it all the more impressive that charters in Indiana are back in sorts of debt-- over half the charters in Indiana are collectively in debt to the tune of $120 million. Of course, if you could borrow money at rates somewhere between 1% and -100%, wouldn't you?
Supporters of the public money giveaway say that it's a good deal because the state ends up with a building as security. But noting that charters can close up shop any time they like, John O'Neal of ISTA comes up with the on-point quote:
"In the last couple years, there have been about 15 or more school
closures in Indiana alone," said John O'Neal, policy and research
coordinator for the Indiana State Teachers Association. "I think it's
definitely something to question whether it's a good use of tax dollars
when these schools can just pick up and leave."
It is something to question, but it doesn't look like the Indiana legislature is prepared to do the questioning (or even allow it-- the new loan package was passed at the 11th hour without debate or discussion). But they have certainly done their best to make sure that taxpayers foot the bill for as many extra school systems as their are privateers interested in profiting from them. Congratulations, Indiana taxpayers!