What happens when people in charge of public education funding believe that it is a monopoly that needs to be broken up? What happens when the people who set education policy in our state believe that variances in student ability are overcome with good teaching, and that student test scores will be able to accurately identify good teachers? What happens when those same policy makers are shareholders, owners or partners in privatized education ventures, private schools, and other education related industries? What happens when those legislators receive large contributions from those companies? It’s the proverbial fox watching the henhouse. Someone is going to get eaten! Unfortunately, in Indiana, it’s our public schools and the children who attend them.
All of This Is Happening in Indiana.
In 2011, at the onset of the legislative changes that ushered in charter schools, voucher programs, increased testing programs, testing used to determine teacher effectiveness, several legislators believed that public education funding represented a monopoly that private companies should be able to tap into and create a competitive field as one way to improve education.
On February 12, 2011 at a breakfast with area teachers at Le Peep restaurant in Valparaiso, Ed Soliday presented that position to those teachers. I was there. Although we tried to persuade him differently, he went on to vote for every education reform that has led to where we are in public education today.
- He voted to expand charter schools even though there was very little if any accountability for those schools, no transparency for how the money was spent and how much money would go toward students, no requirement for local school boards for charter schools, and no requirement that the charter school would have to accept any child who wanted to attend.
- Ed Soliday voted for the largest voucher program in the country which provides taxpayer money for students to attend private (97% religious affiliated) schools including funding students who had never attended a public school.
- Ed Soliday voted to allow the expansion of virtual charter schools which are on-line schools with no building to attend, and student funding at nearly the same amount as students attending a school that has to pay for buildings, custodians, cafeterias, busses, and so on. A virtual charter school can be run by a teacher or two with a server in the spare bedroom!
The oversight on this virtual charter schools program was so minimal that an audit recently showed the state was bilked out of $86 million by two virtual schools who inflated their student numbers and gave money from the state for student tuition to shareholders to prop up their personal corporations. The state has demanded a payback. I doubt we will see any of that money returned.
How Does This Happen? Follow the Money.
K12 Inc, one of the largest online education providers in the country, has given more than $90,000 to Indiana Republican races since 2006, according to state campaign contribution databases. Another large national provider, Connections, has given more than $20,000.
Traditional charter school supporters have also funneled money into Indiana campaigns. American Federation for Children PAC, which is chaired by Betsy DeVos, has contributed $4.1 million into Hoosiers for Quality Education PAC here in Indiana since 2010. Both PACs are committed to contributing to legislators who will support school choice initiatives.
In the 2018 election cycle, Ed Soliday’s largest contributor besides the Republican Party was Hoosiers for Quality Education, who gave him $26,000. Given all of that, can it be any surprise that Soliday only gives lip service to support for public education?