A few days ago, I posted my belief that Indiana’s dismal education policies were the result of Hoosier legislators simply not understanding the difference between education and job training. A couple of commenters disagreed; rather than ignorance and inadvertence, they saw the GOP’s attack on education as intentional. Keep the peons ignorant, and they’re easier to exploit.

Evidently, those commenters were onto something.

Florida–led by “Florida Man” Ron DeSantis–has been one of the Red states leading the way back to the 1950s. That path back to a “Christian” paternalism has been paved by persistent attacks on educational institutions. DeSantis began by appointing far Right ideologues as university trustees, and working with his compliant legislature to threaten librarians and forbid teachers from “saying gay.”

But those measures–unAmerican as they were–were apparently just an introduction. Now, Florida’s schoolteachers are being instructed in how to teach Christian Nationalism.

Training materials produced by the Florida Department of Education direct middle and high school teachers to indoctrinate students in the tenets of Christian nationalism, a right-wing effort to merge Christian and American identities. Thousands of Florida teachers, lured by cash stipends, have attended trainings featuring these materials.

A three-day training course on civic education, conducted throughout Florida in the summer of 2023, included a presentation on the “Influences of the Judeo-Christian Tradition” on the founding of the United States. According to speaker notes accompanying one slide, teachers were told that “Christianity challenged the notion that religion should be subservient to the goals of the state,” and the same hierarchy is reflected in America’s founding documents. That slide quotes the Bible to assert that “[c]ivil government must be respected, but the state is not God.” Teachers were told the same principle is embedded in the Declaration of Independence.

The site Popular Information obtained the slides from the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which received them from the Florida Department of Education after filing a public records request.

The next slide in the deck quotes an article by Peter Lillback, the president of Westminster Theological Seminary and the founder of The Providence Forum, an organization that promotes and defends Christian nationalism. The group’s executive director, Jerry Newcombe, writes a weekly column for World Net Daily — a far-right site known for publishing hundreds of stories falsely suggesting Obama was a Muslim born in Africa.

Popular Information asked Amanda Tyler to review the presentation. Tyler is the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and an expert on Christian nationalism.

Tyler said that the “focus on the mythological founding of the country as a Christian nation, this use of cherry-picked history… is very much a marker of Christian nationalism.” According to Tyler, the aim of the presentation is “to solidify this ideology that equates being American to being Christian.” Tyler noted that the presentation does not address why, if religion was so essential to the structure of the government, the Constitution does not mention God at all.

Robert P. Jones, the president of the Public Religion Research Institute and the author of a newsletter on American Christianity, agreed, saying that the language in the slide deck is similar to what one would hear at “Christian nationalist rallies.” The term “Judeo-Christian,” Jones said, is frequently deployed in Christian nationalist circles as code for a white European Christian worldview.

One Florida middle school teacher who attended the civics training in 2022 and 2023 told Popular Information that, in one session, presenters used the King James Bibles to illustrate their points. Another said there was a heavy emphasis in the training on “dispelling the separation of church and state.” Teachers attending the training were told “that there was no such thing because the founders were Congregationalists,” (an assertion that is factually untrue and– had it been true– would hardly have supported a rebuttal of the constitutional separation of church and state.)

The training ignores John Locke and other Enlightenment figures. Instead, the slides claim that the basis of U.S. law is the Ten Commandments and that the phrase “all men are created equal” is derived from the biblical concept that “man is made in the image of God.”

Instructors were drawn from places like Hillsdale College, a Right-wing Christian institution seeking an overhaul of K-12 education that aligns with its conservative ideology. Hillsdale’s ideology downplays the role of slavery in American history and compares progressivism to fascism and the school is intimately connected to the Christian Nationalist movement.

Here in Indiana, clones of “Florida Man” include Republican culture warriors like Mike Braun, Jim Banks and Todd Rokita. If Hoosiers elect any or all of them, it will be an endorsement of the appalling “education” being pursued in Florida.


Thank Goodness They Went Home…

Can you stand one more diatribe about the pathetic Indiana legislature that has finally and mercifully departed? 

During the past session, I posted several times about the GOP super-majority’s deliberate rejection of evidence about the state’s woeful performance in education. (I could have focused on a large number of other deficits, but who has the time…?) 

The GOP’s persistent efforts to privatize education–while ignoring the state’s increasingly critical shortage of the public school teachers who teach 90% of Hoosier children–required legislators to ignore the years of highly credible academic research rebutting justifications for vouchers. 

I have previously posted about the many problems with privatized and other forms of “alternative” schools that researchers have identified. Among those numerous problems is the distressingly high percentage of such schools that close within 4 years of their founding. A May 4th article from the Indianapolis Star confirms that Indiana is not exempt from such closures. It appears that a third of charter schools close each year.

Proponents of charters and vouchers claim that these closures are a “feature, not a bug”–that the closures are evidence that “the market” is working. Tell that to the distraught parent for whom these closures are disruptive at best. As the article notes, those disruptions create yet another barrier for students who are already vulnerable to low student outcomes, and particularly for students of color.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle took a look at the legislature’s education policy failures during the just-completed session–and published an analysis with which I entirely agree.

As demonstrated by the 2023 session of the Indiana General Assembly, the Republican supermajority is more concerned with creating problems rather than solving them. 

If we are not able to attract and retain teachers and education support professionals because of low pay, lack of respect and inadequate funding, it’s the students who lose out.  

Too many students are in schools where decision-makers have driven away quality educators by failing to provide competitive salaries and support, disrespecting the profession and placing extraordinary pressure on individual educators to do more and more with less and less.

Additionally, too many potential educators never go into the classroom in part because of appallingly low starting salaries and record wage gaps between teaching and professions that require similar education – gaps that get worse over the course of educators’ careers.

So, what did our elected leaders do to solve these problems? 

    • They silenced teachers by eliminating a 50-year right to discuss students’ learning conditions with school administrators. 
    • They threatened educators with a level-six felony and two-and-a-half years in jail if they recommend certain books to kids. 
    • They trampled on the ability for local schools and educators to work collaboratively with parents addressing individual students’ mental health needs. 
    • They continued to drain public schools of scarce funding by siphoning a billion dollars to wealthy Hoosiers so their kids can attend private school for free.

As the commentary pointed out, it was Republican lawmakers who ignored testimony from educators and parents, and doubled down on what has become a GOP “anti-woke”  obsession. They focused on appeasing the Republican culture warriors who are determined to attack teachers and librarians in our public schools, employing misinformation and lies.

They listened to wealthy corporate donors who gave their campaigns hundreds of thousands of dollars to privatize our schools.

This agenda may benefit their political donors, but it hurts local communities which cherish and rely on their local schools – where 90% of Hoosier kids attend. 

It wasn’t just education, of course. The GOP super-majority ignored environmental concerns, thwarted efforts to improve building codes, spit on medical professionals and went to war against trans children–among many, many other things.

To call them “representatives” is to misuse the term.

Poll after poll confirms that Indiana’s legislature does not represent the policy preferences of Hoosier citizens. Thanks primarily to gerrymandering–which is the most effective of the GOP’s various efforts to suppress the votes of rational Hoosiers–Republican members of the General Assembly represent the most extreme elements of the Republican base. 

Since the Supreme Court has refused to notice that extreme gerrymandering is inconsistent with democracy and “one person, one vote,” the only way Hoosiers will ever get a truly representative legislative body is by massive turnout. Redistricting lines, after all, are based on turnout numbers from prior elections; if the people who have given up going to the polls because they’re convinced they live in a district that is “safe” for the other party were to vote in sufficient numbers, a lot of those “safe” districts wouldn’t be so safe.

I wish I knew how to get that message across.

I wish we didn’t have a legislative super-majority fixated on making Indiana the peer of a third-world country.



Following The Money

It was never about improving education.

I’ve posted several times about the World’s Worst Legislature’s continuing assault on public education–an assault defended on grounds that research has soundly debunked. An article from yesterday’s Indiana Capital Chronicle pulled back the (already pretty sheer) curtain on those legislative justifications.

Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston maintained Thursday that virtual charter schools deserve equal funding as their brick-and-mortar counterparts and denied that a virtual education company he consults for would unfairly benefit from an increase in taxpayer dollars proposed in the state budget

The for-profit Stride, Inc. operates seven Indiana-based virtual public, charter and private schools, according to its website and as reported by the School Matters blog. 

Indiana virtual schools like Stride currently receive 85% of the per-pupil state funding that goes to “traditional” public schools. Funding would increase to 100% under the House Republican budget proposal that’s now under consideration in the Senate. 

That means virtual schools stand to get a significant funding boost. For instance, Union School Corporation’s enrollment is almost all virtual, and it will see a 30% increase in total base funding in the first year of the budget. By comparison the statewide average increase in base funding for all school would be 6%.

Based on its current student enrollment, Stride stands to win big, as well — to the tune of some $9 million.

Can we spell “conflict of interest”?

According to the report, Huston is one of at least 15 state lawmakers who provide “professional advice and guidance” to private businesses.

Huston started TMH Strategies Inc. last year, a little more than a month after his high-profile departure from a six-figure role at the College Board, according to his latest statement of economic interest.

He listed his consultancy’s current clients as Fishers-based tech company Spokenote, as well as Stride, Inc. — a for-profit education management organization that provides online curriculum to homeschooled kids and other schools. 

Lest we be tempted to give these lawmakers the benefit of the doubt–lest we be inclined to believe them when they claim to ignore the financial interests of their paying clients when legislating, we need only look at the involvement of a familiar name .

The President of Schools at Stride, Inc. is Tony Bennett — former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction before he was defeated in 2012 by Democrat Glenda Ritz.

Huston left Cisco Systems, Inc. in 2009 to serve as Bennett’s chief of staff at the state education department. But he returned to the company in 2010.

The Associated Press detailed Huston’s involvement in the 2012 sale of a $1.7 million Cisco videoconferencing system to the IDOE that officials later determined was a waste of taxpayer money.

Bennett also contributed $15,000 to Huston’s campaign account since 2020.

Many of you will remember Bennett. During his single term as Indiana’s Secretary of Education, he was touted as a “national leader in the Republican effort to overhaul public education.” After his defeat by Glenda Ritz, he was hired as Florida’s Education Commissioner by then-Governor Rick Scott, a post he was forced to resign when the AP reported that while serving in Indiana, he’d changed the state’s evaluation of a charter school founded by a prominent GOP donor.

As a former teacher–I started my professional life as a high school English teacher and later spent 21 years as a college professor–I have multiple reservations about virtual instruction, not to mention the state’s ability to confirm attendance figures reported by such schools. But even if those concerns can be addressed,  virtual schools don’t incur overhead for brick and mortar school buildings–they don’t pay for utilities, janitors and maintenance. They don’t provide school lunches or transportation. Why should they receive the same per-pupil dollars as schools that do incur those expenses? 

I guess the answer is: because they were savvy enough to hire the right “consultant.”

The assault on Indiana’s public schools has been unremitting and enormously damaging, but in Indiana, education isn’t the only policy area where deep pockets are more persuasive than logic, evidence or the public good. 

Again, the Capital Chronicle has the story.

Environmental activists decried the legislative process for two bills Thursday, saying they clearly benefited some of the state’s most powerful while harming the average Hoosier… 

On Wednesday, a House environmental committee opted to add controversial wetlands language to a Senate bill on sewage systems. Because the topic was unrelated and no notice was given, opponents had limited opportunity to give public testimony — a critical part of the legislative process. 

Meanwhile, the state’s biggest utility – and frequent campaign donor – Duke Energy already called upon a court to review a crucial ruling less than 24 hours after the House passed and Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill to recover “unexpected” additional costs from customers.

Gee–I wonder why Indiana ranks 43d among the states in education–and why we’re the most polluted…


Battle for the Soul of Higher Education

In this morning’s New York Times, Frank Bruni has a must-read column on the purposes of higher education. He focuses upon a debate currently consuming Texas, but anyone who has listened to the rhetoric coming from the Indiana General Assembly will recognize it as an issue equally salient in Indiana.

As Bruni poses the central question:”Do we want our marquee state universities to behave more like job-training centers, judged by the number of students they speed toward degrees, the percentage of those students who quickly land good-paying jobs and the thrift with which all of this is accomplished? In the service of that, are we willing to jeopardize some of the trailblazing research these schools have routinely done and the standards they’ve maintained?”

I would suggest an even more basic question: are we willing to value education?  Do our lawmakers even recognize that education is not the same thing as job training? Do they see any value in the liberal arts, or in research that adds to the sum of human understanding and knowledge? Evidently not.

Bruni quotes the new Governor of Virginia on the subject: “Pat McCrory, the new governor of North Carolina, recently advocated legislation to distribute funds to the state’s colleges based not on their enrollments — or, as he said on a radio show, on “butts in seats” — but instead on “how many of those butts can get jobs. If you want to take gender studies, that’s fine, go to a private school,” he added. “But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”

The current emphasis on what we used to call “vocational education” not only minimizes the value of education itself, it ignores the reality of today’s job market. Most college graduates will have several careers–not just jobs, but careers–and a significant number of those have yet to be invented. Students who emerge with “training” rather than an education that prepares them to think, to apply critical analytic skills to a rapidly changing economy and world, will soon need re-training.

Students who have been taught to think only instrumentally–who value only instruction that is immediately applicable economically, who are satisfied with the “how” and never ask “why”–are already at a considerable disadvantage. We have plenty of those students now, and I often want to invert the dismissive and ignorant statement made by Virginia’s Governor, and tell them: If you just want to learn how to manufacture widgets or push paper, fine.

Go to a trade school.