Monday, January 23, 2017

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #270 – January 22, 2017

Dear Friends,

Betsy DeVos has been the most influential funder behind Indiana’s historic switch to giving public tax money to private and religious schools.

That is my conclusion after reading an informative article in the Indianapolis Star by Stephanie Wang and Chelsea Schneider entitled “Hoosier ties run deep for DeVos,” January 15, 2017, page 21A. According to the authors, DeVos has provided $2.5 million since 2004 to Indiana politicians to support vouchers. That paved the way to historic votes in 2009, 2011 and 2013 which step by step have privatized the school system in Indiana. The entire article deserves your attention.

Now Betsy DeVos is Donald Trump’s choice to be Secretary of Education.

Those who agree with her efforts to privatize schools in Indiana support the choice.

Those like me who strongly oppose the choice believe that giving public money to private and religious schools will totally destroy the separation of church and state and will totally destroy the long tradition of non-partisan civic education for K-12 students.

Funding religious schools will entwine religious controversies into every education issue, as we have already seen in the controversial RFRA law. Funding private schools that teach partisan positions will create a partisan society that will threaten our democracy, as we already see in the hyperpartisan politics in Washington, DC.

I urge you to call Senator Donnelly and Senator Young by Tuesday (Jan. 24th) to ask them to oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos. See phone numbers below.

The Influence of Betsy DeVos in Indiana

The research of the Indianapolis Star reporters in the article cited above is revealing:
  • Indiana’s campaign finance database shows that DeVos’s family and organizations have donated $2.5 million to Hoosier politicians in support of private school voucher policies since 2004, the year Mitch Daniels first ran for governor.
  • This total includes a $95,000 donation to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s campaign. Now Gov. Holcomb has signed a letter of support for the DeVos nomination.
  • Mrs. DeVos has donated another $1.7 million between 2012 and 2014 to non-profit groups in Indiana which support private school vouchers, such as the Institute for Quality Education led by Fred Klipsch. Yes, you read that correctly: $1.7 million
  • Her American Federation for Children Action Fund, a political action committee she funds devoted to private school vouchers has contributed $1.2 million to the PAC linked to the Institute for Quality Education.
  • The same Action Fund also spent $50,000 in TV ads to support Tony Bennett when he lost the election for State Superintendent in 2012.
  • Quoting from the Star article: “All Children Matter, a group once led by DeVos and started by her husband that is now under fire in Ohio for failing to pay a $5.3 million campaign finance fine, gave nearly $1.2 million to fund an Indiana chapter of All Children Matter. The chapter was active in the state from 2004 to 2011, led by [Jim] Bopp and John Mutz….The group parceled out about $480,000 in contributions to Daniels and a number of state lawmakers, including Rep. Robert Behning and House Speaker Brian Bosma, who went on to be sponsors of Indiana’s voucher law. Of the House committee that originated the voucher legislation, a majority of the Republican members had at one time received money from the DeVos group.” (Star, 1/15/17, p.22A)
  • Senator Todd Young is a member of the Senate Committee that will be voting on the nomination on Tuesday, and campaign finance reform groups have called on him “to recuse himself from voting on her nomination because he’s accepted contributions from DeVos.” (p.22A)
You can also call on Senator Young to recuse himself from voting because of these contributions. You can call his office in Washington at 202/224-5623.

The Senate Committee Hearing on the DeVos Nomination on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, 5:30pm

Republican Senators, including Indiana Senator Young, had friendly questions for Betsy DeVos and Democratic Senators had tough questions at Tuesday’s hearing in the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee. Democratic Senators did not like the fact that she had not submitted the ethics review before the hearing and that the chair only allowed each Senator a five minute question time period with only one Republican and one Democrat to have an additional five minutes. The Democrats had more questions that they could not ask.

The questions they did ask revealed why many are concerned about the qualifications of Mrs. DeVos to serve when she has never been a teacher, a principal or a superintendent. She has a degree in business and the closest ties to public education she could cite were that her mother taught in a public school and she once served as a mentor to Grand Rapids public school students.
  • Senator Franken (MN) asked about the controversy between measuring proficiency vs. measuring growth in accountability systems, and she seemed not to be aware of what he was talking about.
  • Senator Murphy (CT) seemed shocked when Mrs. DeVos did not agree with his statement that guns shouldn’t be in schools and when she said she would support Donald Trump if he wants to ban gun-free school zones as he said he would during the campaign.
  • She did not agree with Senator Kaine when he asked if she agreed that there should be equal accountability for all schools that receive federal funds, whether they are public, charter or private schools.
  • She did not dispute Senator Sanders (VT) when he said that campaign records show that she has given $200 million dollars to Republican candidates.
  • She did not agree with Senator Hassan (NH) when the Senator said that children such her own child with cerebral palsy should not have to sign over federal legal rights in order to get a private school voucher, as they do in Florida to get a McKay Scholarship. Mrs. DeVos praised the Florida program.
Senator Alexander, chair of the committee, said that Mrs. DeVos has agreed to sign the ethics paperwork by Friday and if she does, he will take a committee vote on her nomination on Tuesday, January 24th.

I hope you will call our Senators by Tuesday to oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos. Call Senator Donnelly at 317/226-5555 (Indianapolis) or 812/425-5813 (Evansville) or 574/288-2780 (South Bend).

Senator Young’s Washington office is 202/224-5623.

Will the School Voucher Program of Donald Trump Undermine our Democracy?

The private school voucher debate is often framed as a money issue. Public money that is diverted to private schools certainly means far less money is going to support the education of public school students. In Indiana in 2015-16, $131 million was diverted from public schools to private schools, and certainly that money would have a made a positive difference to build new programs for public school students or to prevent cuts in programs for public school students.

Money, however, is not the biggest issue here. This debate is about whether our democracy will continue. Already, after watching the events of the 2016 elections, many observers have expressed concerns about the health of our democracy.

Here’s the point: Private school vouchers will undermine our democracy in at least four ways. If you analyze recent trends, you can see they have already done so:
  • We will segregate into religious enclaves. Private schools are sectarian; Public schools are not. (In Indiana, 98% of private voucher schools are religious schools.)
Vouchers give an incentive for every religious group to use public tax money to set up their own religious enclave with their own school, leaving communities fragmented and making more complicated the democratic skills of listening to other points of view and learning to give and take.
  • We will have greater partisanship. Public schools are politically non-partisan by law; Private schools, however, can be politically partisan.
Vouchers give public money to private schools that can indoctrinate partisan political attitudes into the minds of young children, unlike the non-partisan pro and con debate tradition that is fundamental to public education. Engrained partisanship will begin in the early formative years, complicating the work of democracy which depends on a willingness to compromise.
  • Marketing will rule. The competition for the approval of parents will put marketing above curriculum and instruction in the priorities of each school.
Vouchers force all public schools to put marketing as a new top priority. In the new world of school choice in a marketplace of schools, if parents do not know how good the school is, they won’t choose it. We all know that in any marketplace, marketing and advertising can make all the difference and that even poor choices can be made to seem good by clever marketing. Public schools must now push to the backseat their focus on sound curriculum and instruction while they put top priority on marketing and public images.
  • Civics will be neglected. The competition for the approval of parents will force enormous attention only on the subjects used to grade schools in the mandated testing program: math and language arts.
Vouchers force all schools to put math and language arts as first priorities because those subjects are the basis for accountability letter grades which are the most visible marks by which parents judge and choose a school. This has left citizen education, civics and non-partisan voter education as expendable items in the K-12 curriculum, a tragedy for our democracy which must teach every new generation the civic values and procedures of our democratic society. Less attention to civics and citizenship has been well documented in Indiana, perhaps the most damaging way that the voucher movement is undermining our democracy.

Consider the prophetic statement of the former Wisconsin State Superintendent Herbert Grover back in the 1990’s when Wisconsin passed the first private school voucher program:
"If you look closely, you can see the social fabric of America beginning to unravel. Private school vouchers permit us to fear one another, to surround ourselves with those who look and think like we do, and — in so doing — to abandon our commitment to pluralism and diversity."
The public schools of the United States have been a bedrock for democracy for 180 years since Horace Mann led the way. This could end if the system is privatized.

Please call Senator Donnelly and Senator Young before Tuesday to let them know you strongly oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

The numbers again: Call Senator Donnelly at 317/226-5555 (Indianapolis) or 812/425-5813 (Evansville) or 574/288-2780 (South Bend).

Senator Young’s Washington office is 202/224-5623.

Thank you for your dedicated support of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!

ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support ICPE lobbying efforts. As of July 1st, the start of our new membership year, it is time for all ICPE members to renew their membership.

Our lobbyist Joel Hand is again representing ICPE in the new budget session which began on January 3, 2017. We need your memberships and your support to continue his work. We welcome additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!

Go to for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.


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