"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, November 22, 2013

Disaster Capitalism, Dugger, Indiana, and the Fall of Community Schools

As Naomi Klein shows in her frightening book Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, for decades the big plan of America’s millionaires and billionaires and the government officials they buy with campaign money has been to slash taxes (“austerity" is their pretty name for it) so that funding is drained from public services across the board.  Not only does this save the oligarchs money they don't hide overseas, it also creates a public crisis where private companies can sneak in, take control of public services, fire workers, and make a healthy profit.

For Indiana education, this was what Mitch Daniels was recruited to put in place.  When Daniels and Republican lawmakers chopped $300 million annually from school funding and mandated tax caps to purposely ensure the destruction of public schools a few years back, they intentionally set in motion a disaster.  As I detail in my upcoming book Hoosier School Heist, the agenda was to drain as much cash as possible from the public schools and funnel money to for-profit charter school operators and school voucher supporters, many who paid for the campaigns of Mitch Daniels, Tony Bennett, and state Republicans. After so-called school choice bills passed in 2011, public schools lost $38 million to private schools in 2012 alone.

So far, the disaster has only hit urban areas, but it is quickly moving into smaller cities, and even rural areas. 

Muncie recently eliminated school busing services to over 4,000 of its children, after a referendum vote to slightly raise property taxes didn’t pass because of Tea Party operatives who misinformed citizens about the school situation.  Now officials are floating the idea of having only one public high school in the city.

But Muncie—with a little over 70,000 residents—may just be one of the first smaller cities to suffer in education.  A November 11th Indiana Education Insight article claims that if districts don’t start placing corporate advertising on their buses and Republican lawmakers don’t revisit House Enrolled Act 1072, three Indiana school corporations will lose ALL of their capital funding, bus replacement cash, and bus transportation as early as 2014, and 18 other districts will be without 50 percent of that specific funding, as well.  This financial loss could force districts to dip into other funds and set up more schools to fail, making them ripe for school privatizers to move in.  

Muncie is not alone.  The tiny South Montgomery school district outside of Waveland, Indiana, is also taking a financial beating, with the school board contemplating closing one elementary school. Statehouse reporter Maureen Hayden also recently wrote that “Michigan City voters said no to a $5 million request to close a budget gap in their schools’ general fund; Mishawaka voters said no to a $28 million request to repair their aging schools.” 

Taxpayers refusing to accept even slight property tax increases for their schools at the poles was a given, and the Walton Family from Walmart, the Betsy DeVos family of Amway, and the Jeb Bush family in Florida knew this when they worked behind the scenes (as Associated Press-dumped emails attest to) with anti-public school operatives to help dismantle education in Indiana so that for-profit companies running charter schools like Bush’s friend Jon Hage at Charter Schools USA, and Tony Bennett campaign donor Edison Schools in Gary, could cash in.

The wealthy out to make money and/or dismantle our schools also knew that one of the best ways to destroy public education was to turn citizens against one another, and it is working.  In Sullivan County, the Union Jr./Sr. High School and Dugger elementary schools are on the chopping block, and administrators have already canceled many art, music, and PE classes in the district.  Dugger has a population of 900.  If these schools are closed, some kids will have to be bused as far away as Farmersburg, a staggering 20 miles.

Even with money running out, the Northeast School Corporation of Sullivan County school board hasn't proposed trying to raise property taxes in a referendum, saying the money saved from closing these two schools will help with “technology and career-technical education,” even though Sullivan County has few jobs to begin with and an unemployment rate of 13 percent, the second highest in the state.  Training future workers for jobs that don’t exist is the corporate plan behind those out to profit (in one way or another) on so-called school reform, and it has been for decades.  Besides giving cover to overseas-outsourcing by corporations, it perpetrates the myth that American students are dumb and not competing globally.

In Dugger, things have gotten ugly. Two separate facebook groups have popped up, one to save the Dugger schools, and the other to close them.  As the Tribune Star first reported, the group leader calling for the school closures recently filed complaints with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and state health officials, accusing desperate parents out to save their schools as violating laws because they were repainting classrooms and doing other supposedly unsafe renovations at one school. No violations were found.

Already, some Dugger parents have voiced a desire to start a charter school in the community, but they must be careful.  The true community charter school in Indiana (and other states) is a very rare bird.  It takes a lot of startup money to launch, and community-led progressive charters are prime targets for the wealthy with political ties. 

As I’ve noted before, The Project School in Indianapolis, where I spoke to a frustrated crowd in 2012, didn’t play by the same corporate rules that other Indianapolis charter schools play by.  There were no CEOs of mega corporations on its board.  It wasn’t run by a for-profit outfit with political ties, and its board members didn’t load the campaigns of Mitch Daniels, Tony Bennett, Indy mayor Greg Ballard, or other government officials.  After the Mind Trust’s David Harris (who makes nearly $200,000 a year to promote for-profit charter schools in the city) wrote a letter in the press declaring The Project School faulty, the mayor quickly moved in and closed it down. 

Dugger parents should also know that, by law, the Northeast School Corporation of Sullivan County will  have to offer the closed school buildings to a for-profit charter school operator, who can buy or lease the taxpayer-built building for a mere one dollar.  That is right:  one dollar.  Corporate-driven charter school operators across the state are probably eyeing the Dugger schools as a great way to make money.  They can steal the school, send their operatives into the community and take advantage of the anger and vulnerability of parents, kids, and  teachers in Dugger and promise the moon.  But they will fire veteran educators and replace them with temporary scab teachers who have no connections to the children.  They will, as they always do, put profits over people, and Dugger residents will have one more mess to deal with. 

Dugger, Indiana is a big wake-up call.  Even though 1.3 million voters kicked Tony Bennett out of office in 2012, Bennett was not the main problem.  Bennett was a useful idiot.  Republicans with their wealthy out of state anti-public school funders were the problem.  And people who voted for Ritz turned around and voted all of them right back in.  And believe me, this is not going to end.  Already Mike Pence has announced plans for new corporate-religious run charter schools, and his Republican friends want to eliminate personal taxes on businesses, which means not only are the fire departments, police departments, and the libraries going to take a financial beating, so are the schools.  When the estimated $1 billion from these proposed tax breaks is drained from our democracy, it will be time to sell off your local public services to the lowest bidder, a private corporation that gives you nothing but takes your tax money for its own CEOs' pockets. And then it's going to be too late for anyone to speak up.


  1. Anonymous9:11 PM

    Thank you for the article. Pence should be put on trial.

  2. Anonymous9:40 PM

    if you live outside of marion county you are of minor concern...the 1 percent are flocking to this area and eating at the trough