Tag Archives: Mitch Daniels

Indiana’s School Voucher Program–The Back Story

Toward the end of yesterday’s post about high-stakes testing, I noted that its largest-in-the-nation voucher program illustrated Indiana’s penchant for simple answers to complicated questions.

I have friends who sincerely believe that “school choice” will help poor children escape failing public schools, and none of the careful academic research that documents voucher schools’ generally poor academic results convinces them otherwise. “Private” is a word like “shazam!”– magically opening imaginary doors.

Critics of Indiana’s voucher program tend to place the most blame on Mike Pence, but a recent series of articles identifies Mitch Daniels as the political brains behind Indiana’s program. Pence certainly expanded it–and engineered amendments to ensure that religious schools, rather than other private institutions, would be the major beneficiaries. (In Indiana, some 92% of vouchers are used to attend religious schools, virtually all Christian and a sizable number fundamentalist.)

No one who knows Mike Pence, however, would describe him as the brains of any operation. That accolade belongs to Mitch Daniels.

After noting that five years after the program was established, more than half of the state’s voucher recipients had never attended Indiana public schools–failing or not–and that Hoosier taxpayers are now covering private and religious school tuition for children whose parents had previously footed that bill, the author proceeded to describe the voucher program as an outgrowth of a conversation at a dinner party hosted by Steve Hilbert, at which Daniels is quoted as saying “There is no reason even debating the abysmal, atrocious failure of the public school monopoly anymore.”

In the years that followed, three of those dinner guests — Daniels, Pence and Klipsch — would be major players in the quest to privatize traditional public education in Indiana.

Klipsch would start and run a political action committee, Hoosiers for Economic Growth (a.k.a. Hoosiers for Quality Education), that would play a major role in creating a Republican majority in the Indiana House to redistrict the state to assure future Republican control.

In 1996, however, there were no charter schools in Indiana, nor were there virtual schools or vouchers. Neighborhood public schools served communities in a state that had always taken a “liberal and leading role” in providing public education for its children.

Twenty-one years later, Hoosier public schools were showing the effects of 15 years of what the article characterizes as “relentless attack.”

Entire public school systems in Indiana cities, such as Muncie and Gary, had been decimated by funding losses, even as a hodgepodge of ineffective charter and voucher schools sprang up to replace them. Charter school closings and scandals were commonplace, with failing charters sometimes flipped into failing voucher schools. Many of the great public high schools of Indianapolis were closed from a constant churn of reform directed by a “mindtrust” infatuated with portfolio management of school systems.

The author traced the decline to Daniels.

After his election, Daniels quickly laid the groundwork for creating a system based on the belief that the market principle of competition would improve education outcomes and drive down costs. Under the guise of property tax reform, Daniels seized control of school funding by legislating that the state would pay the largest share of district costs known as the general fund, while giving localities the responsibility for paying for debt service, capital projects, transportation and bus replacement. Daniels and the legislature also made sure that districts would be hamstrung in raising their local share by capping property taxes so that they could not exceed 1 percent of a home’s assessed value. The poorer the town, the less money the district could raise.

The remainder of the lengthy article traces the changes to Indiana education made by Daniels and Tony Bennett, his chosen Superintendent of Public Instruction–changes funded by Betsy DeVos’s foundation. I encourage you to click through and read the article in its entirety. And weep.

My only quibble is with the author’s obvious belief that Daniels’ assault on public education was motivated by a malevolent intent to privatize the state’s schools. Unlike Pence, Mitch Daniels is a highly intelligent man. He is also thoroughly political and ideological. My guess is that he drank deeply from the well of GOP dogma, and believes–with an almost religious fervor, evidence be damned– that the private sector is always superior to the public sector. (Why so many people who clearly believe this nevertheless spend their professional lives in the public sector is an enduring mystery.)

So here we are. Vouchers have increased religious and racial segregation without improving academic performance. Meanwhile, public schools are struggling to perform without adequate resources, and the state’s underpaid teachers are leaving in droves.

Did Indiana’s schools need improvement? Absolutely. Were vouchers an appropriate or effective remedy? Absolutely not.

That’s what happens when ideology trumps evidence.

 

For-Profit Education Is About Profit, Not Education

It will come as a surprise to exactly no one that Betsy DeVos is a fan of for-profit colleges. After all, she has championed voucher programs that take funding from public schools and send it to private ones, many of which are run or managed as for-profit enterprises. Unfortunately, her support is not shaken either by the data rebutting the belief that such schools actually provide an education (let alone a superior education), or by the documented fraudulent behavior of for-profit “colleges.”

The New York Times editorial board recently weighed in on DeVos’ roll-back of efforts to protect college students against that fraud.

Say this for Betsy DeVos: The secretary of education has shown an impressive commitment to rescuing her friends in the for-profit college business from pesky measures to rein in their predatory behavior. As pet projects go, it lacks the sulfurous originality of her emerging idea to let states use federal dollars to put guns in schools. But it is a scandal nonetheless. Given the choice between protecting low-income students — and, by extension, American taxpayers — and facilitating the buck-raking of a scandal-ridden industry, Ms. DeVos aggressively pursues Option B.

The Obama-era regulations basically required “truth in advertising.” If too many students at the for-profit school racked up massive student debt–financed, after-all, by We the Taxpayers– and then were unable to qualify for decent jobs, and if the ratio of such failures exceeded a certain level for two out of three years, those schools became ineligible to receive taxpayer-backed loans and grants. The regulation also required for-profit programs to include whether or not they meet federal job-placement standards in their promotional materials.

DeVos said the regulation unfairly targeted for-profit schools, even though–as the Times reported-

A recent review of “borrower defense claims” — requests for loan relief filed with the Education Department by students asserting they were defrauded or misled by their schools — found that almost 99 percent involved for-profit institutions.

There is, in fact, plenty of evidence that for-profit educational institutions are much more interested in profit than in education. DeVos herself doesn’t seem very educated about data, education or the department she presumably runs. Nor is she winning many converts.

A federal court has ruled against her effort to delay implementation of the Obama rules, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” And California just became the first state in the nation to ban for-profit charter schools. The law was inspired by a newspaper investigation confirming allegations of profiteering at the expense of children’s educations. For-profit charter schools currently operating in California “must convert to non-profit management prior to each school’s renewal deadline.”

Although I absolutely support both the regulations DeVos is attacking and California’s  requirement that for-profit institutions become nonprofit,  the problem isn’t limited to institutions that are organized as private, for-profit enterprises. Any business lawyer can explain the ways in which the line between for-profit and non-profit can be blurred. Create a corporation to provide an arguably publicly- beneficial purpose, and distribute what would otherwise be “profits” as salaries, and voila! (Take a look at some of your local “nonprofit” hospitals…)

And that brings me to Purdue University’s recent acquisition of Kaplan University, a for-profit enterprise now re-branded as public.  I think the Century Foundation got it right, when it charged that Purdue University Global Is a For-Profit College Masquerading as a Public University.

In April, the for-profit Kaplan University officially became an arm of Indiana’s public university system. With its new home and new name, Purdue University Global is the first public university to share control with a for-profit company answerable to investors. When the deal was announced last year, Purdue’s president said that critics of for-profit colleges “should be happy” that Purdue was turning Kaplan into a public rather than for-profit institution. Critics, however, wondered whether the for-profit company’s large ongoing role meant, instead, that Kaplan’s history of predatory practices would simply re-emerge under a “public” moniker.

One answer to that question arrived last week, when Purdue faculty members revealed that the online school is requiring instructors to sign a four-page nondisclosure agreement. The pledge, required for Purdue Global employees, prohibits professors and staff from discussing anything they know about the university’s operations with anyone else, including their colleagues (unless those people already have access to the information). Officials at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) describe the pledge as “unprecedented for a public, non-profit university” and “breathtakingly inappropriate in higher education.”

Now, The Century Foundation has new documents showing that predatory practices at Purdue Global were baked into the plan from the very beginning.

Those documents–described in detail at the linked article–reveal a number of ways in which Purdue Global was designed to be much more of a for-profit college obligated to its investors than a public institution serving students.

I am a big believer in markets, profits, and capitalism…in the economic sectors where markets and profits are appropriate. Education is not one of those sectors.

Rather than strengthening performance of education’s public function, rather than recognizing the critically important role of education in producing a literate and informed polity, the Republicans running our government–and the Republican running Purdue University–are elevating profit over purpose, and moving us in precisely the wrong direction.

 

The Assault Continues….

File under: Surely you jest.

The latest, widely-reported “initiative” from former Governor and current President of Purdue Mitch Daniels is an “innovative” method of financing college educations: have private individuals “invest” in a student in return for a portion of that student’s eventual earnings.

The impetus for this brilliant idea, according to Daniels, was concern over student loan debt. How this would improve the situation is unclear; owing your “patron” is unlikely to be any less burdensome–or less costly– than owing the bank. (If we were really interested in addressing student debt, we’d pass Elizabeth Warren’s bill and lower interest rates, or follow Germany’s example and provide free public education through college.)

And echoes of feudalism aside, this does raise a few questions. Who, for example, is going to “invest” in a philosophy degree? (Oh, I forgot: Mitch and his pal in Wisconsin, Scott Walker, don’t value a “search for truth” or a liberal arts education. They’re all about “job training” and generating more worker bees…)

Young people used to pay for their passage to the New World by promising to work for a certain number of years for an employer who would finance the voyage. This was called “indentured servitude.”  Indentures couldn’t marry without the permission of the employer,  and their obligation to labor for their “owner” was enforced by the courts. Owners could buy and sell indentured servants’ contracts and the right to their labor.

This raises some fascinating possibilities: while it’s unlikely the proposed contracts to finance an education would include a right to approve marriages, could the “investor” require the student to choose a job that paid more rather than a lower-paid one that the student preferred?

Could the investor “sell” the contract at a profit if the student did well and the negotiated percentage of her income represented a better-than-anticipated return on investment?

Could the investor require his “investment” to abstain from smoking, drinking and other risky behaviors that might threaten the duration of the student’s work life?

Actually, this bizarre proposal suggests that America is overdue for a discussion of what constitutes an investment–and especially about the difference between public and private investments.

Believe it or not, Mitch, that philosophy major is a good public investment, even if it doesn’t make much sense to the rich guy looking for a kid who’ll be his annuity.

 

 

But He Had Friends in High Places

A recent AP investigation appears to conflict with the “nothing here, move along” attitude taken by Tony Bennett, his patron Mitch Daniels, and Tim Swarens of the Indianapolis Star, who recently penned a puff piece about the former Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The AP analyzed a report compiled by Indiana’s inspector general, showing many more instances of campaigning with  public resources than previously reported:

From Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2012, the investigation found more than 100 violations of wire fraud laws. They included 56 violations by 14 Bennett employees and 21 days in which Bennett misused his state-issued SUV. Former chief of staff Heather Neal had the most violations, 17.

In a section labeled “Scheme to Defraud,” the inspector general laid out its case, saying Bennett “while serving as the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Indiana, devised a scheme or artifice to defraud the State of Indiana of money and property by using State of Indiana paid employees and property, for his own personal gain, as well as for his own political benefit to be re-elected to the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

The violations fell into five categories: political campaign fundraising, responding to political opponent’s assertions, calendar political activity meetings, political campaign call appointments and general political campaign activity.

Through reviews of emails and calendar entries and more than 50 interviews with top Republicans and former staffers, investigator Charles Coffin determined Bennett falsified mileage logs to cover fundraising trips and use of two separate state workers as campaign drivers. The report also details 20 days on which Bennett used the SUV to go to local Republican fundraisers coded as “business” in his handwritten vehicle logs, as well as instances where trips to events billed as education-related also had calendar notes about political donors being present.

Bennett also used tax dollars to send a staffer to attend the 2012 Republican Party convention on his behalf.

Whatever your opinion of Bennett’s education policy preferences–which, as he proudly noted in the Swarens article, were identical to those of Mitch Daniels–they are no excuse for wire fraud, or the falsification of financial documents. (Need I point out that you don’t falsify records if you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong?)

Interestingly, despite ample evidence of criminal behavior, Bennett has never been charged.

In addition to confirming what many of us already suspected about Bennett, this report adds a bit more substance to the emerging outlines of Mitch Daniels’ fiscal and administrative legacy: Underfunded and struggling municipal governments thanks to the ill-advised constitutionalizing of tax caps. A State Board of Accounts that lacks the resources to do adequate audits of local government units, Department of Child Services caseworkers with unmanageable caseloads, and elimination of subsidies to families adopting special-needs children, thanks to indiscriminate understaffing and cost-cutting. (It took a lawsuit to restore the subsidies.)  A Toll Road once owned by Hoosier taxpayers is currently an asset in a private-sector operator’s bankruptcy, thanks to too-clever-by-half financing schemes. A string of revelations about illegal and unethical behavior by cronies of our ex-Governor, including but certainly not limited to Tony Bennett.

And of course, there’s the little matter of his appointment of Purdue Trustees who–entirely coincidentally!–turned around and hired him at a handsome salary.

Welcome to Indiana, where you can get away with pretty much anything–with a little help from the right friends.

Mitch Evidently Started a Trend

According to Business Insider, Florida Governor Rick Scott has “pulled a Mitch” at Florida State University, appointing Trustees who then (what a coincidence!) appointed his campaign manager and crony as president.

According to The Times-Union, the state senator’s final interview with the FSU Board of Trustees Tuesday “came despite opposition to Thrasher from faculty and students expressing concern about the school’s reputation and the need for the next leader to have stellar academic credentials.”

Jennifer Proffitt, the president of the FSU chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, told The Times-Union that “It’s clear [Thrasher] does not have the qualifications to lead a research university.”

Thrasher is a former Florida house speaker and chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. He graduated from FSU for both his undergraduate and law degrees.

The Times-Union reports that Thrasher had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of students and faculty last week at an open forum. Of the close to 700 responses collected after the talk, 11% gave Thrasher ‘good’ grades, while 87% gave him ‘not good’ or ‘below average’ marks,” according to The Times-Union.

Another criticism of Thrasher is his close connections to many of the FSU trustees — most were appointed by Florida governor Rick Scott, whose campaign for re-election is managed by Thrasher. (emphasis mine)

The justification for placing politicians in these positions is that they will be good fundraisers. It is evidently irrelevant that they do not share the values of the academy–or even understand the mission of a research university. They are spectacularly unfit for the job of protecting scholarly inquiry and academic freedom.

Sic transit intellectual integrity and institutional credibility.