Monday, January 29, 2018

IN: Of God and Big Bucks

This two-part tale was too important to tuck in with the rest of my regular "In Case You Missed It" post yesterday.

Over the course of two stunning editions of the Washington Post's Answer Sheet column, Carol Burris has laid out the history of privatization in Indiana, a state that has been close on Florida's heels as a leader is dismantling public education. Burris, the president of the Network for Public Education, connects the dots quickly and clearly (and with sources all the way).

Part One takes us all the way back to 1996, when Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence led a private discussion about how to remake public education in a new, more profitable image. Daniels, an executive at Eli Lily, would become governor and lay the groundwork for the destruction of public ed in Indiana. He grabbed control of school funding for the state, while simultaneously crippling local districts' ability to fund, making schools dependent on legislative policy for survival-- and the GOP legislature has no real interest in such survival, particularly when it came to non-wealthy, non-white districts.

It's striking to see how many of the players way back when are names we know so much better today. A future business partner of Mrs. Donald Trump. Tony Bennett, whose shenanigans with the school grading system would cut short his next job with Jeb Bush. And pumping money into the reform agenda, the DeVos family. EdChoice, an organization devoted to keeping the Milton Friedman flame alive, is an Indiana group as well.

Once Daniels stepped aside, Mike Pence moved into the governor's mansion, and the dismantling continued. (The Pence years take us into Part Two.)

What's striking about Pence's tenure is how he radically expanded the work Daniels had done. While Daniels seemed focused primarily on expanding the free market and letting entrepreneurs jockey for education dollars via charters, Pence seems far more interested in making it easy for those dollars to find their way to private religious schools. It's under Pence that charters give way to vouchers, and vouchers allow the unregulated flow of tax dollars to all manner of private religious schools, with deliberate disregard for whom or what those schools are willing to teach.

The story of Indiana is one of how various pretenses ("We need to rescue poor students from a few failing public schools") are simply a foot in the door, a pickax in the foundation, and reformsters just keep chipping away so that there is less and less left of a true public education system. Indiana is also a story of how free market acolytes and hard-right Christians can work as natural allies for the destruction of true public schools.

It's a valuable read, with Part Three yet to come. Check this out. It's a good demonstration of how school reform really works in places like Indiana, as well as a reminder that, no matter what they say, some of the major players have been working toward very clear goals for decades.

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