On the very same day that the Washington Post reported on Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul’s call for more school vouchers and expanded charter programs, the Associated Press exposed a frantic behind-the-scenes operation in Indiana to raise the grade given to a charter school run by a major Republican donor. As Rick Perry might say, “oops.”
Paul’s call to expand vouchers and other “school choice” programs is not surprising. Right-wing political strategists have invested huge sums in recent decades to undermine public support for public schools as a means of outsourcing public education dollars into private hands. Privatizing public education is practically an article of faith in today’s Republican Party and it has been a major project of the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
What should be more surprising, but isn’t, is Paul’s seeming lack of concern for accountability in the use of tax dollars. The Post reports that Paul “shrugged off” documented quality control problems in DC’s voucher system and “dismissed” recent research showing that charters, while improving, are still not outperforming traditional public schools. Pushing for expansion in the face of dubious evidence is standard operating procedure for education privatizers.
Many advocates for expanded voucher and charter programs say the problem is that public schools aren’t held accountable for their results, but they resist applying the same kind of accountability to “choice” schools. In Indiana, as the Associated Press reports, former state school superintendent Tony Bennett and his staff “frantically” overhauled his much-ballyhooed “A-F” grading system last year when it turned out that Christel House, a charter school run by a major GOP donor, would receive a “C.”
"They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist.
The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan's grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive….
Though Indiana had had a school ranking system since 1999, Bennett switched to the A-F system and made it a signature item of his education agenda, raising the stakes for schools statewide.
Bennett consistently cited Christel House as a top-performing school as he secured support for the measure from business groups and lawmakers, including House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long.
But trouble loomed when Indiana's then-grading director, Jon Gubera, alerted Bennett on Sept 13 that the Christel House Academy had scored a 2.9, or a "C."
"This will be a HUGE problem for us," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012 email to Neal.
Neal fired back a few minutes later, "Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved."
A weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued among Bennett, assistant superintendent Dale Chu, Gubera, Neal and other top staff at the Indiana Department of Education. They examined ways to lift Christel House from a "C'' to an "A," including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high "B'' look like an "A'' and changing the grade just for Christel House.
It's not clear from the emails exactly how Gubera changed the grading formula, but they do show DeHaan's grade jumping twice….
"I am more than a little miffed about this," Bennett wrote. "I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months."
Bennett told AP that his frustration was with a flawed grading formula and denied that the staff’s frantic changes were designed to give DeHaan’s school an A. But, the AP report says, “the emails clearly show Bennett's staff was intensely focused on Christel House, whose founder has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders.”
UPDATE: In the wake of news coverage of the school-grading scandal in Indiana, Bennett resigned as Florida's education commissioner on August 1, just a day after Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Bennett was doing a "great job."
Today the Supreme Court declined to review a federal appeals court ruling blocking an Indiana law that would have stopped Planned Parenthood from receiving federal Medicaid funding for preventative health screenings.
Rev. Brendolyn Jenkins-Boseman of Aiken, South Carolina, chair of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, released the following statement:
"Today’s decision is a victory for Indiana women and should be a signal to conservative legislatures across the country that are trying to limit women’s access to health care. Our courts have stopped many of these measures, but with proposals to defund Planned Parenthood surfacing across the country, we must remain vigilant.
"Why do conservative politicians still think that playing politics is more important than women’s access to cancer screenings and other vital health services? While these politicians push for wasteful and unpopular attacks on reproductive justice, many faith leaders and our allies remain committed to fighting for access to safe, affordable, and compassionate health care for all women. All women deserve dignity and autonomy – over their own bodies and their own futures."
Conservative talk show host Janet Mefferd this week waded into the controversy about an Indiana high school where a group of students wanted to organize a separate prom that would specifically prevent gay and lesbian students from attending.
After lamenting that “public schools are morally bankrupt,” Mefferd asserted that proms which allow all students — gay or straight — to attend actually violate the rights of Christian students who disapprove of homosexuality.
What right in particular, you might ask?
According to Mefferd, apparently the right of students not to even see gay people!
She maintained that the students’ desire not to see gay students outweighs the rights of gay students to attend their own prom.
“Why should the rights of the [gay] activists trump the rights of Christians” who don’t want “to see that,” Mefferd asked.
Mefferd: Everything is so upside down in our society now and right and wrong have completely switched where what is really wrong is to say you shouldn’t have two boys allowed to go to the high school prom. Now we can get into a big issue of the public schools are morally bankrupt at this point and we all ought to exit and just let them, let them do their thing, and that may be the ultimate answer; on the other hand, I feel for these Christian kids who are in a prom or kids who are at this high school who say, ‘you know something, do we have to go down this road?’ Whether the homosexual activists like it or not, and I know this isn’t politically correct to say this, but not everybody wants to see that. I know that that’s offensive to the activist crowd, they want us all to see it, they want us all to approve of it, they want us all to call it blessed and okay and rejoice and have parties and throw confetti in the air over this whole thing. But the fact of the matter is it’s a moral issue. You will always have Christians who will disagree with this and why should the rights of the activists trump the rights of Christians?
Update 2/20: Mefferd spent a good part of the weekend tweeting at us, and a good portion of her show yesterday railing against us, claiming that we had "libeled" her with this post. Today, we received a letter [PDF] from her attorneys demanding that we remove this post and asserting that even though we had quoted her verbatim, we had misrepresented her views.
According to this letter, Mefferd claims that she was merely saying that some people object to seeing gay couples at prom, not that Christians have a right not to see gay people in general:
Ms. Mefferd’s comment, in discussing a controversy in an Indiana high school about attendance by homosexual couples at a high school prom, was that ‘not everybody wants to see that.’ (emphasis added). Ms. Mefferd was not making a statement about homosexual people, or any other people for that matter, when making that statement, as Ms. Mefferd would have said ‘not everybody wants to see them.’ Mefferd’s statement was about the inclusion of homosexual couples at a high school prom, and made a factual statement that ‘not everybody wants to see that.’
What’s the difference you ask? Good question. We stand by our original post and think that the audio clip we posted speaks for itself.
Out of State Money Floods Contests in 2012
Washington, DC – Today People For the American Way Foundation unveiled new state-by-state fact sheets detailing outside spending in U.S. Senate and House races in 21 states. Each report analyzes the outside spending totals from Super PACs, dark money groups, and out-of-state spenders in the down ballot federal races from the 2012 election cycle. The fact sheets reveal that, on average, a majority of outside election money in these states came from Super PACs. And in every case, a vast majority came from organizations registered outside of the state.
The release of the “Outside Spending, Outsized Influence” reports coincide with the weekend marking Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the third anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC to draw attention to the dual threats of voter suppression and unlimited corporate and special interest money in politics. The reports – a partnership between PFAWF and U.S. PIRG – are part of the Money Out/Voters In campaign. As part of that campaign, People For the American Way Foundation, its affiliate People For the American Way, and other organizers across the country are hosting “Day of Action” events in more than 76 cities in 33 states this weekend. Members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council will be leading Money Out/Voters In events in Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia.
“Last year’s elections were far and away the most expensive in history,” said People For the American Way Foundation Executive Vice President Marge Baker. “A major reason was the influx of outside, special interest spending in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision. When big money floods our elections, it dwarfs the ability of individual Americans to have their voices heard. Just as important, when politicians push laws to suppress the vote, we turn back the clock on decades on progress to expand and improve our democracy. We need to pursue the full range of remedies to address the problem of too much money in politics, including amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, and we need to stand up against the growing threat of voter suppression. This weekend we are joining with allies across the country to call for a democracy that gets Money Out and Voters In.”
The states featured in the reports are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.
For links to each report, please visit: http://www.pfaw.org/issues/outside-spending-outsized-influence-big-and-s...
For more information about the Money Out/Voters In campaign or the Days of Action, please visit: http://www.moneyout-votersin.org
Former Indiana Rep. John Hostettler lamented yesterday that the “church has extracted itself from government,” creating a vacuum filled by “those adversarial to biblical truth.”
Hostettler, talking with Truth in Action Ministries’ Carmen Pate on the organization’s radio program, agreed with Pate that the education system is controlled by “those who really don’t want our kids to understand what the Constitution has to say” – namely, as Hostettler, puts it, that “government is an institution that is not just a God-centered one, but it was ordained by God.”
Hostettler represented southwest Indiana in Congress from 1995 through 2007, and is now president of the Constitution Institute, which dedicates itself to providing state legislators and others with “a greater understanding of the United States Constitution.”
Pate: You know, it seems to me, Congressman, it’s very clear that the founding fathers intended for the government’s role to be limited, and they based this Constitution on biblical principles and truths. Yet we know that those on the left, the secular humanists, see the importance of a big government, not limited, because then they can wield more power over the people.
Not to sound conspiratorial here, but I wonder if there have been attempts perhaps by those secular humanists, those on the left, to really not allow or to take away some of the opportunities for learning more about what the Constitution has to say. Say in our public schools, you mentioned in school you didn’t learn all these things. I didn’t either. It wasn’t until I got out of school and started working with pro-family organizations that I really dug into the Constitution.
Have we allowed the education of our children to be given over to those who really don’t want our kids to understand what the Constitution has to say?
Hostettler: Well, Carmen, you’re exactly right. That is what has happened. Because the church has extracted itself from government and we have fundamentally forgotten, as Dr. Kennedy taught, that government is an institution ordained by God. Just as the family was ordained by God, and just as the church was ordained by God, government is an institution that is not just a God-centered one, but it was ordained by God.
So we have extracted ourselves from it – the church, the body of Christ has – we’ve handed it over to others, and we’ve forgotten that just has nature abhors a vacuum, politics and public policy and government likewise abhor a vacuum. Someone is going to occupy that space, some philosophy is going to occupy that space. And it’s either going to be fundamentally a philosophy that is sympathetic and is agreeable to biblical truths, or it is a philosophy that is adversarial to biblical truth. It’s going to be one of the two. And as you pointed out, it has been a philosophy overall that is adversarial to biblical truth.