Following the education money in Indiana is easy. Just find the rabbit with the pocket watch and dive down the hole behind him.
Where to begin? How about with Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and the City-County Council jockeying over a tax increase to leverage donations to provide preschool to a couple thousand kids – while the state, which has the constitutional responsibility for education, sits on a $2 billion surplus.
Then there’s Gov. Mike Pence, turning down $80 million in federal dollars for preschool for the poor because he’s running for president and doesn’t want to alienate the Birchite wing of his party, which demonizes Washington and, for that matter, public schools altogether.
Then there’s the Indiana House Republican agenda for 2015, which would (and no doubt will) shift funding from poor urban districts to suburban and rural districts, with the promise of a bigger pie for all. This, from a government that’s consistently bled urban districts by cutting their funding and siphoning it away to charter schools and private schools. It’s a promise you can take to the bank, and hope for a bailout.
Finally, there’s the massive spending by corporate-backed outside “reform” outfits on certain candidates in the race for the Indianapolis Public Schools board – an “investment” in local education that surely will result in more charter schools and further diminishment of a school system that needs all the help it can get if it’s to hold on to its middle-class constituency while serving as a last resort for the poor.
All this money – city, state, federal, private. Going all these directions – to the well-off, the profiteers, the salaries of the nonprofits, the six-figure experts, and in the case of the $80 mil, to some other state where children’s needs trump rightwing ideology and crass personal ambition.
When Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans, visited Indianapolis a few years ago, he pointed out that the schools down there that had seen improvement post-Katrina were not necessarily examples of the merits of charters and teacher union-busting, as the public school bashers would have it. Rather, they were beneficiaries of a huge infusion of federal ameliorative funding. “No civilization in the history of the world,” he said, “has declined because it spent too much on education.”
In Indiana of late, we are spending too much education money that could be going to education. And we are leaving education money unspent rather than spend dubious political capital. We pay lip service to the little capsules of our future while refusing, with lame rationalizations and the meanest of motives, to pool the money that’s out there waiting.
You’ve got it, Alice. Curiouser and curiouser.
Dan Carpenter is a freelance writer, a contributor to The Indianapolis Business Journal and the author of “Indiana Out Loud.”