Now They’re After The Libraries

The Indiana General Assembly is back in session. This time, mercifully, it’s a short session, but that hasn’t stopped the supermajority from continuing its efforts to turn Indiana into Mississippi.

A commentary by my friend Michael Leppert recently began by poking fun at bills filed by lawmakers who were apparently unable to employ legislative language that would actually accomplish what seemed to be their goals. He  then moved on to bills introduced so far during this legislative session that “aren’t humorous, or merely humorless. They are hateful.” 

One of those hateful bills is House Bill 1291, filed by Rep. Chris Judy, R-Fort Wayne. That bill

attempts to erase the word “gender” from the Indiana Code and replace it with “biological sex.” He wants to legally cancel all transgender people in Indiana. If his bill were to pass, as filed, transgender people would no longer exist in the state. The bill creates definitions for other things too. Words like “woman,” “man,” “girl,” and “boy,” would now all mean what the legislature says they mean. 

Leppert is entirely correct that the cited bill is hateful, and its effects would be assisted and strengthened by a seemingly unrelated effort to destroy–or at least severely hobble–the state’s public libraries.

As WFYI reports

Indiana Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would drastically change the way public libraries are funded and limit the types of events and activities they can host. The legislation could also potentially result in decreased funding for library services.

Senate Bill 32, authored by Sens. Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville) and Gary Byrne (R-Byrneville), would eliminate the ability for public libraries to impose property taxes. Instead, libraries would need to submit their budgets for approval to their local city or county government, in the same way that other municipal departments do. 

The proposal comes months after legislation that makes it easier for community members to request removals of books from schools was signed into law. And libraries across the country have come under fire in recent years for hosting events like drag queen story hours, or for including books in their young adult collections that some people find objectionable.

Byrne, you will recall, was the lawmaker trying to stop a nonprofit program giving voters  free rides to the polls (although Leppert points out that the language in his bill was so imprecise it would prevent transit companies from giving any person a free or reduced fare for any reason on election days.)

Senate Bill 32 would have a massively negative impact on libraries and their patrons. For one thing, it would allow counties to choose not to fund a public library at all. But the bill would do more than “merely” strike at library funding; it would prevent libraries from engaging in a wide variety of activities that currently benefit their communities.

The proposed legislation would also restrict libraries to a set of “core functions,” that are limited to public access to library materials, quiet areas for study, technical assistance, and acquisition of services for members of the public.

But public libraries typically offer a much wider array of services, including early literacy programs, science, technology, education and math programs, as well as dedicated makerspace labs, community programming like author talks, music performances and art exhibits.

Increasingly, libraries have also begun to offer social work services to help patrons gain access to government assistance, housing and mental health services.

In a statement, the Indiana Library Federation said the bill doesn’t take into account the ways modern public libraries operate as community hubs. As the Library Federation points out, “Not providing library patrons with these services would directly affect public libraries from meeting Indiana State Library compliance standards.”

The Federation also listed the numerous ways that public libraries are fiscally accountable. They are governed by boards whose members are appointed by local elected officials.

Library boards approve annual budgets, and they host public meetings and hearings on those budgets. Library budgets are publicly available, and they’re also submitted to the state’s Department of Local Government Finance and the State Board of Accounts for review. Rogers said libraries are also routinely audited by the state.

If passed, the bill would result in an increased administrator workload for municipal and county governments — which would have to take on the duties of budget oversight and approval for libraries, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

But if libraries are free to enlighten (or–horror of horrors–to host Drag Queen story hours) some citizens might realize–among other things– that trans people exist!

Your Indiana Republican legislators: working around the clock to defund and neuter any part of government that might educate Hoosier citizens. 


Quality Of Life

The unrepresentative Representatives who infest Indiana’s legislature have gone home, leaving  citizens to consider the multiple harms done during the concluded session. One harm that was mostly overlooked was their refusal to invest in Indiana’s state parks.

As the Capital Chronicle has reported,

Indiana Senate Republicans’ disregard for our parks and for the benefits they bring to Hoosiers’ quality of life was on full display recently when they zeroed out Gov. Eric Holcomb’s requested investment of $25 million for the President Benjamin Harrison Land Trust.

The Trust is the mechanism through which the state purchases land for conservation and parks. As the Chronicle editorialized,

Our Indiana parks and natural spaces are a treasure. They bring more than a connection to nature. They bring jobs, economic growth, and a quality of life that attracts and retains talent…. A 2016 study commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Wellness Council of Indiana stated, “infrastructure related to traditional wellness activities (such as trails, playgrounds, parks, and open green space) matter more than ever in where people and subsequent businesses relocate.” 

Parks are highly prized and extensively utilized–a quality of life asset–and as Michael Hicks recently documented, economic growth is tightly tied to quality of life indicators. It’s one reason some places grow while others shrink.

First, most migration is concentrated among younger people with high human capital. Yes, retirees move, as do folks in mid-life, but most don’t. One result of the age concentration of migrants is that this movement of people also drives natural population change of births minus deaths. So, places with net in-migration tend to thrive over the coming decades, while places that lose folks do not.

Migration of people is driven by three factors; economic opportunity, quality of life and housing elasticity. Housing elasticity is simply whether the supply of housing adjusts to demand. With the exception of a dozen or so large metropolitan areas in the U.S., housing elasticity plays no meaningful role in household migration. In fact, the Midwest currently benefits from bad housing policies in other regions such as the West Coast. Thus, migration in the Midwest really comes down to economic opportunity and quality of life.

For most of American history, people moved for better farmland, better jobs and/or better places to start businesses. As the role of educated workers has grown, however, and the share of college graduates explains nearly 80 percent of the growth and earnings in a city, people began to value more than just economic opportunity in their location choices.

Today, research shows that jobs follow people, not business-friendly tax climates.

In 1980, few places enjoyed both economic opportunity and high quality of life, but as of 2019, they are highly correlated…

Over the past couple of decades, families found that their location choices were vastly expanded. Economic opportunity was tied to the places where people clustered, and people clustered where the quality of life was good.

In the 60s and 70s, the perceived differences between places was driven by nature–climate, mountains, lakes– not government. That has changed.

The empirical evidence is now extraordinarily clear. Places with restrictive social policies in the United States fail to become destinations for economic opportunity. They struggle to attract and retain their share of well-educated people. That trend is sure to continue, if not accelerate.

Another change: in the 2000s, a national focus on school quality emerged.

At the same time, labor markets began valuing education far more heavily. So, for the past couple of decades, it has become obvious that the quality of a K-12 and college education were prime determinants of economic opportunity for individuals.

In the post-COVID environment, the role of quality of life is even stronger. Today a quarter of all young, educated people have full-time remote jobs, and half work at least partially remote. The certain effect of this is that the amenities (and dis-amenities) of a region will weigh more heavily on prospective residents than ever before.

So, what do we know about the characteristics of a high quality of life?  Excellent schools, natural amenities/climate, and local recreational opportunities head the list. 

What is new is the fact that the effect of quality of life on population growth is close to four times larger after COVID than in the decade before. Much of that is due to remote work accelerating the existing trends. We don’t yet know how long that will last, but my guess is for at least a generation. We also know that a welcoming social climate matters.

Meanwhile, Indiana’s legislature continues to pursue an outdated low-tax strategy, shortchanging education and parks, among other quality of life amenities, and doubling down on  misogyny and homophobia.

No wonder we’re not thriving.


What I Don’t Know Can’t Hurt Me. Really?

Among the things that make me crazy: one is the GOP’s obvious belief that education and academic research are dangers to be avoided at all costs.

Does evidence show that having guns in your home is dangerous? How many people commit suicide using a firearm? Are guns more lethal than other weapons? Whoa! If government allowed research into those questions, it might divest you of your God-given right to carry your AR-14 in the canned goods aisle of your local Kroger.

As Politico reported back in 2018,  

House Republican appropriators Wednesday rejected a proposal to designate millions of dollars for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for gun violence research, voting 32-20 to keep the language out of a fiscal 2019 spending bill.

The party-line vote marked Democrats’ latest failed bid to spur studies into preventing firearm-related injuries and deaths — and comes despite a bipartisan agreement earlier this year that the CDC is permitted to conduct such research.

Republican opposition to any and all gun research has been a problem for years, but guns are only one area of research that the party wants to shut down. Yesterday, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported on a vote from the World’s Worst Legislature stripping funding from the Kinsey Institute.(paywall)

That vote was apparently based upon “disputed allegations” by one of Indiana’s many rightwing GOP wacko’s. This one insisted that Kinsey’s research had been child exploitation and that the institute’s research into human sexuality contributed to “liberalized sexual morals, including more acceptance of homosexuality and pornography.”

According to the AP,

Alfred Kinsey, who died in 1956, produced groundbreaking sex-behavior studies in 1948 and 1953 and was portrayed by Liam Neeson in the 2004 film “Kinsey.”

Republican Rep. Lorissa Sweet claimed that some of Kinsey’s research was child exploitation as she argued for an amendment to the state budget bill against funding for the institute.

“By limiting the funding to Kinsey Institute through Indiana University’s tax dollars, we can be assured that we are not funding ongoing research committed by crimes.” Sweet said.

Democratic Rep. Matt Pierce, whose Bloomington district includes the university campus, responded that Sweet’s claims were “based on old unproven allegations of conspiracies that did not exist,” calling them “warmed-over internet memes that keep coming back.”

Pierce said the university maintained a department that ensured all research involving humans met federal laws and that the Kinsey Institute aimed to better understand human sexuality, including how to treat and prevent sexual predators and pedophiles.

All House Democrats voted against the measure; they were joined by seven (presumably more rational) Republicans. The bill  specifically prohibits any use of state money for expenses– including the institute’s on-campus facilities, research work, utilities, office supplies and maintenance of research photographs or films.

Pierce said the institute’s funding was being exploited as a “culture war” issue and that it would simply create bookkeeping problems for the university to use sources such as outside grant funding or student tuition to support it.

It is painful for those of us who belonged to the GOP when it was an actual political party to recognize its transformation into a cult whose members routinely chant “don’t confuse me with facts.” There’s a reason today’s GOP is increasingly compared to the Know-Nothing Party. This vote in Indiana’s House confirms the aptness of that comparison. 

Research and scholarship aren’t just integral to succeeding in school or in many professions. In a rational world, research informs action. Researchers gather evidence in order to test the theories and factual assumptions upon which both governments and individuals act.

Americans on the far right of the political spectrum–especially White Christian males– are frantically opposed to a number of social changes: the unwillingness of today’s women to be properly subservient, the belief that people of color and LGBTQ+ citizens are entitled to equal treatment by both the law and the institutions of civil society. They see  accurate education and the conduct of research as breeding grounds for those changes.

In every era, there are people who respond to social change by yelling “stop the world, I want to get off.” They are a minority, and would be far less threatening in the absence of several outdated structural elements of American politics–especially gerrymandering and the Electoral College–that have entrenched governance by that distinct minority.

An essay in Psychology Today quoted “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,”  for the saying“Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

But is it? Let’s look at what results from ignorance: avoidance of facts and information, a skewed view of the world where you don’t want to learn more about something, a desire to label and judge something you might not fully understand, and a general lack of knowledge about the world around you.

In other words, today’s GOP.


Indiana’s Pathetic Legislature

An analysis of the priorities of Indiana’s legislative super-majority yields two possible interpretations. Either the members of the demonstrably unrepresentative  GOP caucus hate their constituents (unless they’re well-to-do), or they are so devoid of common sense that they enthusiastically support measures that are the legislative equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot.

I do tend to think the problem is intellect rather than malice–a rabid devotion to ideology that precludes the evaluation of credible contrary evidence. But former state employees who depend upon their state pensions might be forgiven for thinking those in the current Statehouse super-majority hate them.

As the Capitol Chronicle recently reported, 

A bill mandating that Indiana’s public pension system divest from firms or funds that use certain non-financial investment criteria — a flashpoint in the state’s culture wars — could slash the system’s returns by nearly $7 billion over the next decade, according to a revised fiscal analysis.

Author Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Logansport, and supporters say the proposal would ensure that the Indiana Public Retirement System puts finances first. House Bill 1008 is part of a GOP effort to crack down on the environmental, social and governmental framework known as ESG investing.

But its restrictions and administrative requirements could mean a hefty price tag for the fund and its retirees.

As the article noted, even the conservative-leaning Indiana Chamber of Commerce strongly opposes the measure. That opposition undoubtedly reflects the long-time–but evidently now discarded–Republican opposition to unnecessary and/or intrusive meddling in decisions that should be left to the owners and managers of businesses.

But hey! Today’s GOP recognizes the terrible threat posed by allowing Hoosier companies to consider the environmental, social and governance positions of the enterprises in which they invest, or with which they do business. If former state workers must suffer in order to avoid participating in this descent into “wokeness,” well, so be it.

Lest the casual observer conclude that this misbegotten bill is an outlier, allow me to disabuse you.

Let’s look at just a couple of other areas where our intrepid lawmakers are hard at work making sure the state will not and cannot reach its purported goals. You can probably identify others.

One problem to which everyone gives lip servicee is that  Indiana lacks a sufficiently skilled workforce to make us competitive for many of the companies our economic development folks would like to attract.

So what did the God-Fearing misogynists at the Statehouse do? They passed a ban on abortion–sending a clear message about Indiana’s political culture to skilled workers (male and female) who might otherwise have considered living here. Multiple news outlets have confirmed  the increased difficulties in recruitment that followed passage of the ban.

Another major issue for Indiana is the worsening teacher shortage, a shortage that the General Assembly is assiduously addressing with multiple efforts to drive educators (who might produce that skilled workforce) out of the profession and/or the state.

It isn’t just the bills telling teachers and school librarians what books they can use and what history they can teach. At the same time our lawmakers are trying to micro-manage what happens in public school classrooms, they are intent upon enlarging a voucher program–aka “scholarship” bill–with virtually no oversight mechanisms. 

That program is patterned after one in Arizona, where even minimal oversight was evidently considered intrusive. As The Guardian recently reported, 

When the former governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, signed a law last year that lets any family receive public funds for private school or homeschooling, he said he “trusts parents to choose what works best” for their children.

Over 46,000 Arizona students now take part in the state’s education savings account, or ESA, program, which provides about $7,000 per child annually for a huge array of school expenses. But with households in greater charge of curricular choices, some purchases are raising eyebrows, among them items like kayaks and trampolines, cowboy roping lessons and tickets to entertainment venues like SeaWorld….

One parent in the group said she uses the Disney+ streaming service to “extend our learning” and asked if the state would approve the cost of a subscription. Others said they had received approvals for trampolines and horseback riding lessons.

It’s pretty obvious that what legislative culture warriors tout as a boon for “family empowerment ” is really part of a persistent effort to disempower and dismantle public education.

In Arizona, the seemingly endless variety of options available to homeschoolers makes it difficult for state officials to regulate them – and that may be the point. The goal, school choice proponents say, is to break free of school bureaucracy and put parents in control.

In Indiana, the message to teachers is clear: we trust even the most uneducated parents, but we sure don’t trust you. 

Gee, I wonder why we have a teacher shortage…?


Education And The GOP

Yesterday, I posted about the continued effort by self-described  Hoosier”conservatives” to expand the state’s already massive school voucher program–a program that has failed to deliver the educational benefits that justified it in the first place, while deepening the divides between Americans of different races and religions.

A few days ago, I had coffee with one of Indiana’s most conscientious and effective state senators–Fady Qaddoura (who also happens to be a former, excellent student of mine)– who has introduced a bill to fully fund pre-kindergarden in the state. We discussed that proposal and several other education measures that have been or are likely to be introduced during the legislative session that just began.

In addition to the coffee with Senator Qaddoura, I’ve scheduled meetings with several other people who are knowledgable about both education policy and the Indiana General Assembly.  (My retirement allows me to dabble in matters that interest or infuriate me, and–with some prodding from my youngest son–I’ve decided to follow education bills in this session.)

In the course of our discussion, Senator Qaddoura pointed to a very interesting–and very revealing–aspect of voucher legislation that had not previously occurred to me.

The GOP’s voucher program classifies families that earn up to $145,000 per year as “poor” enough to qualify; so the state pays for their kids to attend private schools. When it comes to qualification for state-funded childcare and/or pre-kindergarden, however, families bringing home a mere $27,500 are “too rich” for their children to qualify.

This makes perfect sense–if the actual goal of the voucher program is to encourage an exodus from the state’s public schools, a goal that furthers other obvious goals of Indiana’s GOP: destroying the teacher’s union, and finding a “work-around” of the First Amendment’s prohibition against funneling tax dollars to religious organizations.

The difference in those definitions certainly sends a message about which Hoosiers our Republican legislators are there to serve.

The session has just started, but thus far, a proposall being referred to as the house’s “High School Redesign” bill has been introduced and given a low number (H.B. 1002), suggesting that it is is a GOP priority.  As another friend described it,

Basically, it is a new voucher-like program for high schoolers who would get some of their education through an employer/a company.  Student support dollars would follow the child to pay for this experience.

I haven’t yet read the bill, but if my friend’s description is correct, it looks like yet another effort to divert dollars from public school classrooms–at a time when Indiana ranks 41st among the states in teacher pay and the state’s public schools  have a massive teacher shortage.

Then, of course, there’s the culture war. Education lobbyists fully expect that an anti-CRT bill will be filed, and probably a “Don’t Say Gay” Florida rip-off.

One “culture war” effort that previously failed has already been refiled. It is back again in both the House and Senate (HB 1130 and SB 12). The bill’s synopsis reads:

Synopsis:Material harmful to minors. Removes schools and certainpublic libraries from the list of entities eligible for a specified defense to criminal prosecutions alleging: (1) the dissemination of material harmful to minors; or (2) a performance harmful to minors. Adds colleges and universities to the list of entities eligible for a specified defense to criminal prosecutions alleging: (1) the dissemination of material harmful to minors; or (2) a performance harmful to minors.

I assume that the identification of “harmful” material includes any reference to the existence of LGBTQ Hoosiers, and that the inclusion of “performance” is aimed at those “grooming” Drag Queen Story Hours. (Can’t have someone in a costume reading Green Eggs and Ham…)

Also on the culture war front, there are a few bills that would turn Indiana’s currently non-partisan school board elections into partisan contests. (Wouldn’t want a Democrat sneaking onto one of those school boards…)

There is some good news. In addition to Senator Qaddoura’s bills (one of which includes tightening oversight of charter schools) there is evidently a possibility that Indiana will finally join the great majority of states that pay for textbooks.

I realize that many if not most of the people who follow this blog don’t live in Indiana–and may be uninterested in details about our regressive legislature.  That said, these efforts are hardly confined to Indiana. ALEC provides the templates for many of these bills to numerous states, and observers fully expect our General Assembly to “borrow” from states like Florida, where Governor “what Constitution?” DeSantis and his obedient minions in that state’s legislature continue to wage war on gays, “woke” corporations and academic freedom.

Unlike Vegas, what happens in The Backward States does not stay in The Backward States.Unfortunately.