Tag Archives: tax dollars

Footing The Bill For Proselytizing

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette has reported on Indiana’s school voucher program–the largest such program in the United States–and has followed that report with a wider-ranging, scathing editorial listing additional issues with the program.

The newspaper’s revelations didn’t surprise those of us who have been watching what I can only call “the voucher scam.” Whatever the motives of the people who originally supported these programs–and I know that some of them were sincerely trying to improve educational opportunities for poor children– vouchers have become the weapon of choice for theocrats who have long felt threatened by public education.

As the article notes,

Taxpayers in Indiana are footing the bill for student scholarships to schools that push ultraconservative and sometimes bigoted viewpoints.

More than 30 private schools participating in Indiana’s school voucher program use textbooks from companies that teach homosexuality as immoral, environmentalism as spiritually bankrupt and evolution as an evil idea.

Of the 318 private schools participating in Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program – a voucher program that uses public funding to help students afford private schools – 36 use at least one textbook or piece of curriculum created by either Abeka or Bob Jones University Press.

The reporters checked the websites of 131 Christian schools that participate in Indiana’s “Choice” program, looking for details about their curricula. If a school didn’t have a website, or the information on the site was inadequate, they reached out via phone and email. Most failed to respond.

Who are Abeka and Bob Jones University Press? How do their textbooks compare with standard classroom materials?

Abeka, a textbook company, is affiliated with Pensacola Christian College, a far-right religious university in Florida that bans “dancing” and “satanic practices” in its code of conduct. Bob Jones University Press is affiliated with its eponymous university, which outlawed interracial dating until the year 2000.

According to education scholars, the textbooks produced by Abeka and Bob Jones are filled with inaccurate history and distorted science. A  historian is quoted in the article saying that the history texts don’t teach anything “that could accurately be called history;” instead, she said, “They are essentially proselytizing for Protestant Christianity.”

In a middle school American history textbook published by Abeka, titled “America: Land I Love,” Satan is blamed for the spread of the theory of evolution and modern psychology, according to a book procured by HuffPost.

A high school world history textbook from Bob Jones University Press also pushes falsehoods and stereotypes. One chapter asserts that it was Jewish religious leaders who plotted to kill Jesus Christ, a myth that has long been used to fuel anti-Semitic sentiment.

Of the 318 schools that currently participate in Indiana’s voucher program, more than 95 percent are explicitly religious. According to the Journal Gazette’s calculations, at least 4,240 children receiving vouchers funded by tax dollars attend schools that use the Abeka or Bob Jones’ textbooks.

Of course, not all participating schools use these texts, and some 34,000 students have now participated in Indiana’s voucher program, so it is only fair to consider how they are doing overall. After all, voucher programs have now been around long enough to be evaluated.

The news isn’t good.

The research simply doesn’t support the rosy claims made by proponents. In Indiana, studies show that children using vouchers have an average annual loss of 0.10 standard deviations in mathematics when compared to comparable public school students; that same research found no statistically meaningful difference in reading.  Research from other states has yielded even more disappointing results.

These schools may be bringing children to Jesus, but they aren’t improving their educations.

So–let’s sum up what we know: Significant resources are being diverted from Indiana’s struggling public schools in order to send funds to private religious schools that do not improve children’s performance in reading, and significantly worsen their performance in math. An indeterminate number of those schools substitute extremist religious indoctrination for accurate instruction in history and science.

This is the Mike Pence “model” that Betsy DeVos wants to replicate nationwide.

These are your tax dollars at work.

It Depends

Early each semester, I tell my students that–after taking my class–they should find themselves using two terms more frequently than they did before: it depends, and it’s more complicated than that.

For example, in recent posts, I have pointed to significant problems with two proposed public-private projects: a Justice Center and a soccer stadium. In the case of the Justice Center, my qualms aren’t with the project itself, but with the secrecy surrounding it, the important questions that remain unanswered, and the potential for both poor design and unnecessary expense. In the case of the soccer stadium, i’m flat-out opposed to putting scarce tax dollars in a project that’s unlikely to do anything but enrich its politically-connected developer.

But just because some projects raise red flags doesn’t mean taxpayers should never support local business efforts. It simply means we need to be savvy about which ones.

Take the recent proposal from Angie’s List. The company has asked the city to create a TIF to secure approximately 18 million in bonds. In return it has promised to invest $44 million of its own– to retain a thousand jobs on its near-Eastside campus, to relocate another existing 800 employees to that campus, and to grow the workforce there by yet another 1000– all by the end of 2019. In addition to those jobs (paying an average of 50,000), the company will purchase and redevelop an existing building and construct a parking garage.

Obviously, adding 1,800 well-paid workers to the near Eastside of downtown would be very good for the city. But what if Angie’s List defaults–what if it cannot grow its workforce, or even honor the “clawback” penalties for failure to do so?  What will the city have to show for its investment?

Several things, actually:

  • A contaminated property, the Ford Building, that has been redeveloped and returned to the tax rolls.
  • A new parking garage and street level retail on 3 acres of currently undeveloped property added to the property tax base.
  • Physical improvements that should spur redevelopment east of the interstate towards Irvington.
  • Creation of 500 construction jobs that will generate COIT and sales tax revenue.
  • Facilitation of IPS’ relocation of operations from the former Coca-Cola building on Massachusetts Avenue – something both the city and IPS have long desired.

Note that these aspects of the project will benefit taxpayers whether or not Angie’s List can fulfill its employment promises. If it can, the city will obviously see many other benefits.

The point is, every proposed project, every proposed TIF district, every “partnership” must be independently evaluated. Hard questions must be asked, and “what ifs?” must be considered. If rosy projections don’t materialize, will taxpayers still come out ahead? If not (soccer stadium), we shouldn’t proceed. If we don’t have enough information (Justice Center), we shouldn’t proceed until we have that information. If a project has been thoroughly vetted, however, and the downside is still acceptable, it’s a prudent investment.

In other words, it depends.

 

Your Tax Dollars at Work

One hundred and sixteen million dollars. That’s the amount that Education Week reports will be made available this year to Indiana’s voucher schools. Needless to say, that’s also the amount that will be taken away from Indiana’s public schools.

Two new reports detail the exponential growth of the state’s school voucher program: One is the annual report issued by the Indiana Department of Education, the other comes from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, which is based out of Indiana University’s School of Education.

The article notes that Indiana has been steadily expanding its voucher program since it was first created in 2011.

Recent changes include raising the threshold on income eligibility, lifting the participation cap on the program, and opening the program up to students who were already enrolled in private schools. For example, the legislature passed a bill in 2013 making students zoned to schools graded “F” in the state’s accountability system eligible for vouchers even if they had never attended their local public school.

For the current school year, fewer than 50 percent of students in the voucher program had previously attended a public school. In other words, we taxpayers have generously taken over the cost of private schooling for  parents who had previously been footing their own bills. At the same time that our public schools–especially in urban areas–are being starved of resources.

Voucher programs in Indiana and Ohio have some of the least restrictive income-eligibility requirements in the country.

And I’m sure it’s just a coincidence in our “buckle of the bible belt” state, but 94% of the schools participating in the voucher program are religious schools.

Honest to Goodness. Indiana.

Fight the Culture War on Your Own Nickel, Greg

I thought I’d share a letter that Bill Groth and I wrote to the editor of the Star, published today (at least in the electronic version), for the benefit of the growing number of people who no longer read that publication.

_____________________

To the Editor:

Attorney General Greg Zeller recently had a letter in The Indianapolis Star defending his decision to file yet another friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court—this time, in a case from New York challenging the conduct of legislative prayer.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Attorney General’s position on the merits, his entirely voluntary participation in this case raises an issue that troubles us as attorneys and as taxpayers. Simply stated, Attorney General Zeller has shown an unseemly proclivity to weigh in—ostensibly on behalf of all Hoosiers—on so-called “culture war” issues entirely unrelated to Indiana. This time, it’s public prayer;  a few months ago, it was opposition to federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states where such marriages are legal.

These forays into matters not involving Indiana or its citizens may play well with the Republican party’s religiously conservative base, but they do not serve the interests of the broader Indiana community. Indiana was not a party to those cases, and it was entirely unnecessary to take a side in matters about which Hoosiers remain sharply divided.

Zeller defended his culture war activism by noting his office “routinely” files friend-of-court briefs.  This is precisely what concerns us.  Just as courts exercise judicial restraint and refrain from deciding issues not squarely before them, we believe that Attorney General Zeller should show similar restraint by not volunteering Indiana as a partisan “culture warrior” in cases to which the state is not a party.  He claims no tax money is involved in the preparation of these briefs, because his staff researches and writes them. That staff, of course, is paid with Hoosiers’ tax dollars.

If lawyers in the office have enough spare time to work on numerous legal matters not germane to state business, it would seem the office is overstaffed.

Attorney General Zeller denies he is advocating any personal position and is only seeking “finality” on this and other controversial issues.  But as any lawyer can attest, and the Attorney General surely knows, issues of this sort are never “final.”  It is hard to escape the conclusion that Attorney General Zeller is using his public office to advocate for his personal religious views—views that are highly divisive in an increasingly pluralistic society. Such use of an elected office is improper, and it should stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Money, Our Information

There is a very interesting op ed in this morning’s New York Times from an academic who does medical research, opposing a bill that has been introduced in Congress that would “protect” academic medical journals.

Protect them from what, you ask?

Under current practice, when the NIH or other tax-supported government agency funds research, the peer-reviewed articles that are subsequently written about that research are made available on-line for free. The journals want to change that practice, so that anyone interested in the results will have to buy their journals (which are, by the way, very expensive). The op-ed’s author believes–and I agree–that research funded by taxpayers ought to be freely available to taxpayers; it doesn’t seem fair to make the public pay for something that is then given to private parties who can profit from it.

It is interesting that our debate over healthcare reform has ignored the fact that this is a widespread phenomenon in medical science. Representative of “big Pharma” talk endlessly about the money they spend on research, and what constitutes a fair return on that R & R investment. They talk a lot less about how much of the essential research is funded by taxpayers, and how much more it would cost to develop drugs if that were not the case.

When I was doing some research for a paper a few years ago–before the Affordable Care Act–colleagues from the medical school shocked me when they explained that taxpayers were shouldering between 60% and 70% of all costs for medical care. From public hospitals like Wishard, to programs like Medicare and Medicaid, to underwriting scientific research, We the Taxpayers have paid most of the tab for many years.

Whatever the merits of “private enterprise,” it doesn’t exist in medicine, and hasn’t for a very long time. Perhaps if policymakers understood that, we taxpayers would get some respect–and a return on our investment.