Tag Archives: Indiana

We Don’t Care What the Evidence Says….

The Indiana General Assembly is finally going home, concluding a session which most sane Hoosiers couldn’t wait to see come to an end. There was plenty of bad policy to go around (RFRA, anyone?) but–as has become typical during the Pence Administration– city schools took the greatest hit. The final budget slashed funding for urban public schools in districts serving the poorest populations, while raising amounts for rural, charter and voucher schools.

Once again, the legislature took money from the state’s most strapped public schools to increase funding for Pence’s ill-considered voucher program–currently one of the most extensive in the nation. Indiana has close to 30,000 students receiving public funds to attend private schools, some 80% of which are religious.

To add insult to injury, lawmakers also took oversight of voucher schools away from Superintendent Glenda Ritz, and moved it to the Governor’s office. According to the Indianapolis Star

A proposal was slipped in the state’s new $31.5 billion budget without public debate, moving calculation of school voucher costs from Ritz’s Department of Education to Pence’s board and shifts control over which schools qualify to receive vouchers.

If anyone thinks Pence’s office is competent to do either job, I have a bridge to sell you…

Whatever one thinks of charter schools, at least they remain part of the public system. Vouchers are another thing altogether. There are plenty of reasons to object to the growth of the state’s voucher program–vouchers bleed money from the public schools, have been shown to re-segregate students, and give parents choices without providing them with the information they need in order to inform those choices. (In Louisiana, a significant percentage teach creationism and other “biblical truths.”) Most also fail to deliver.

Proponents defend vouchers as a means of escape from “failing” public schools; the obvious implication/promise is that students will receive a better education in the private schools to which they take those vouchers.

The evidence does not support that promise.

According to a report from the bipartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability in Chicago, school choice in Indiana is “designed to funnel taxpayer money to private schools, with little evidence that demonstrates improved academic achievement for students who are most at risk.” The study compared Indiana’s program with those in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. – some of the oldest voucher programs in the country – where they say they found similar results.

The study replicates several others that have been conducted since “school choice” programs became the easy answer to struggling schools.

Virtually all scholars who have examined the performance of voucher schools have concluded that academic gains range from none to minimal. The single improvement that has been documented is parental satisfaction; when parents feel they have had a choice, they are more empowered and exhibit more positive attitudes.

Hoosier taxpayers are paying a lot for that parental satisfaction.

The vast majority of Hoosier children, who remain in public schools being purposely drained of necessary resources in order to support private (mostly religious) education, are paying a lot more.

Show Me the Money…

Wasn’t “show me the money” a repeated demand in that Tom Cruise movie, Jerry MacGuire?

The phrase seems appropriate in light of recent news from Indiana’s budget mavens; according to several media reports, state lawmakers will have about $213 million less to spend during the next two years than they thought they would.

And why might that be? After all, we’ve been assured by our elected officials that Right to Work and similar measures would grow Indiana’s economy and fill our coffers, that the ability to hire workers for low wages (because we all know that’s what Right to Work was all about–low wages) would bring “job creators” in droves to our state.

It didn’t seem to occur to our economics-challenged lawmakers that people who work for less have less to spend and less to tax.

The General Assembly’s logic reminds me of the old joke about the business owner who bragged that he was selling more widgets than his competitors, because he had priced his below cost. When he was asked how he expected to make any money, he said he’d make it up on volume.

Low wage workers don’t pay a lot of taxes, and widespread reductions in disposable income translate into less business for retailers and other business establishments, so the amount of tax paid by those businesses is also less than it would otherwise be.  

Nor has Indiana seen the promised influx of new enterprises. Businesses tend to gravitate to places that can offer a high quality of life, and low-tax states like ours can’t compete with places that can spend more money on schools, transportation, parks, public art…. When you don’t have any natural amenities–seashores, mountains, great weather–the absence of those niceties is really noticeable.

You’d think our lawmakers would notice that constantly chasing the lowest common denominator hasn’t worked, but they’re doubling down. This session, it was repeal of the Common Construction Wage.

We’re circling the drain, while our “frugal” lawmakers wonder why they can’t show us the money.

 

PR Advice from an Expert

A good friend of mine used to run one of Indiana’s premiere public relations firms. So naturally, when the news broke that state agencies had hired a national PR powerhouse (for $2,000,000!) to begin repairing the damage done to the state’s economy and reputation by those responsible for the RFRA debacle, I asked him for his thoughts.

His response:

As an Indiana PR professional, I will fix Indiana’s problem for free in three simple steps:
1. Pass a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — along with sex, race, religion, etc.
2. Have an articulate Indiana spokesperson appear on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos.
3. When George asks “A final question, a final yes-or-no question: Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians?” answer: “No, George, it should not be legal and it is not legal in the state of Indiana.”

PR problem solved. No expense required.
You’re welcome.

In other words, our mothers were right: Actions speak louder than words. (People will judge you by your behavior.) Think before you speak. (You won’t get into these situations if you think about what you are about to say or do before you say or do it.) Treat others as you would like to be treated. (You won’t regret acting like a nice person instead of a jerk.)

After all, as Matt Tully noted in a column making much the same observations as my friend, there’s a limit to what spin alone can accomplish.

Okay, So Here’s My Final Question..

You would think that everything that could possibly be said about “religious freedom” in Indiana has now been said, written or mocked, and that it is past time for this blog to move on…but I do have one more question, and it hasn’t been asked or answered. At least, not that I’ve seen.

Let’s say I own a bakery, and Mrs. Unpleasant comes in and asks me to bake a cake for her DAR meeting. She’s one of those customers who always complains about something and is never satisfied, and I don’t want her business. Do I say: “Listen, you shrew, I don’t cater to impossible biddies, go somewhere else”? Of course not–at least, not if I have any brain cells. She’d bad-mouth my bakery all over town. Instead, I say “Gee, I’d love to, but I am so backed up with orders, I can’t squeeze this in.” Or “Darn! I have to wash my hair this week and won’t have time.” Or something.

So–this time, it isn’t Mrs. Harridan with the megaphone, it’s Adam and Steve, and they want a wedding cake. Wouldn’t I use the same sort of excuse? I mean, who is compelling  bakery/flower shop owners to declaim “Oh no, my Lord has commanded that I not participate in your sinful nuptials!”

Who’d know what my real motive is? Adam and Steve might suspect, but as any lawyer will confirm, suspicion isn’t evidence.

This leads me to think that  what these “godly” folks really want isn’t just the right to refrain from participating; they want the right to scorn and humiliate any hapless LGBT folks who might be unwary enough to try patronizing their establishments.

They don’t just want the right to “opt out” of baking that cake or making that bouquet; they want to be able to advertise their superior “godliness” without worrying about some silly legal commitment to equality or civility.

 

 

Why Can’t We Be More Like Oregon?

As I’ve previously noted, early in the session, Indiana’s legislature moved quickly to kill a bill that would have kept our polling places open for two extra hours. (Indiana’s polls are the nation’s earliest to close). It was just one more effort to suppress the votes of people–mostly elderly, working poor and/or black–who might vote for the “wrong” party.

If we really wanted our citizens to vote (“we” clearly don’t), we’d take a leaf from Oregon’s book.

Call it “motor voter” on steroids.

New legislation signed into law today in Oregon paves the way for the state to one day have close to 100% voter registration. The new law takes the federal “motor voter” law to new levels and registers a person to vote when they obtain or renew a state driver’s license or ID – and it’s partially retroactive.

The law dictates that once residents interact with the state DMV – whether to get a license or ID for the first time, or renew an existing one – they’ll become registered to vote if they aren’t already. The registration will be provisional for 21 days, during which time applicants will be notified of their new status and be given a chance to become affiliated with a political party or to opt-out of the voting process altogether. In essence, Oregon will now be the first state to approach voting with an “opt-out” mindset, as opposed to “opt-in.”

I’ve written before about the virtues of Oregon’s vote by mail system, which is not only convenient, but allows time for thoughtful consideration of ballot choices. Every registered voter is automatically sent a ballot about two weeks before Election Day, and can either mail their ballots back or return them in person.

According to the Oregonian, 

Because of Oregon’s careful signature verification process, fraud and other electoral mischief are virtually nil.

Recounts in extremely close races are based on paper ballots of every vote — not receipts or electronic voting machines. So there’s no danger in Oregon of software hackers casting ersatz votes by the thousands — not to mention no electricity to operate electronic voting machines or impassable roads and polling places 3 feet underwater.

In the 2014 midterm election, 53.5% of Oregon’s registered voters actually voted. The state was fifth in voter turnout

Indiana was dead last. Gee–I wonder why.