Since my last article on the possibility that two schools in tiny Dugger, Indiana may be closed soon by the Northeast School Corporation of Sullivan County, I have unearthed something shocking that residents, teachers, parents, and students should know, and it points to Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and brother and son of two past U.S. presidents.
As I detail in one chapter of my upcoming book, Hoosier School Heist, Jeb Bush was one of the main players behind school privatization in Indiana, among other things recruiting his pals at the for-profit Charter Schools USA and Edison Learning to take over so-called “failing” schools in Indianapolis and Gary. In fact, back in 2011, before emails were released to prove what he was up to across the country, I wrote about Jeb Bush’s role in draining money from Indiana public schools in order to hand it to wealthy campaign donors of Tony Bennett and Mitch Daniels.
One of Jeb Bush’s chief plans was to sell online learning to Indiana, and he succeeded in 2010 when Tony Bennett—Indiana’s former supt. of education and member of Bush’s Chiefs for Change school privatizing front group— used his power at the Department of Education to help dupe the only rural charter school in Indiana, the Rural Community Academy in Graysville in Sullivan County, to enter into a partnership with Connections Academy, the online learning for-profit company operating in 19 states and now owned by testing and book giant Pearson.
The same year Pearson purchased Connections Academy (2011), Bennett’s education department signed a six-year contract with Pearson Education to deliver textbooks to Indiana schools and “Indiana awarded NCS Pearson a $224,720 contract to rewrite the state's teacher standards” to line up with new academic guidelines. Pearson, in turn, funded the broadcasting of Tony Bennett’s inaugural “State of Education” speech that was broadcasted on radio and TV stations across Indiana.
By all accounts, the Rural Community Academy started off proudly 10 years ago as a community-led charter school after the Graysville Elementary School in 2003 was closed by the Southwest School Corporation. But somewhere along the line, the billionaire-boys club (as education scholar Diane Ravitch calls it) co-opted the little red charter school on the hill and Jeb Bush’s buddies moved in.
And they won big.
With a budget of $6.6 million in the 2011-2012 school year, the Rural Community Academy put $5 million of taxpayer money (see page 10 in PDF) into the hands of the pilot program run by Connections Academy and Ball State University (which, by the way, collects around $3 million yearly “sponsoring” charter schools in Indiana).
Connections Academy funds Jeb Bush’s school privatizing Foundation for Excellence in Education (a big supporter of Tony Bennett) in order to spread for-profit online learning in numerous states.
Connections Academy is notorious for buying lawmakers across the country, and it has been no different in Indiana. The mega corporation also works with corporate-backed ALEC to pass and write online charter school laws across America. Connections Academy’s Mickey Revenauge, as Lee Fang writes, co-chairs ALEC’s “education policy-writing department,” where the Virtual Public Schools Act sent to Maine and other US lawmakers debuted and Bush, ALEC, and Connections Academy pulled the same trick, but it didn’t work out as well as it did in Indiana. Indiana had Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett to help it all along. Bennett and Revenauge hobnobbed at Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education's 2011 summit, where online learning was on the agenda. Moreover, Connections Academy has handed $19,900 to mostly Indiana Republicans since 2007, with $2,000 finding its way into Tony Bennett’s campaign chest, according to Indiana campaign records. A good majority of Indiana Republicans, too, belong to ALEC, and Mike Pence is scheduled to speak at the corporate group’s next engagement on December 6th.
Connections Academy by law needed to use a brick-and-mortar Indiana charter school to first get state funding for its pilot program to enroll students across Indiana, and the Rural Community Academy was used. Indiana Connections Academy now has a nonprofit set up whose sole goal is to funnel money to the for-profit company ($4.5 million in 2010—see page 19 in PDF), and tax records are not yet available to show whether or not the rural school is still paying.
Connections Academy also raked in another $637,000 (page 10) from July 2010 to June 2011 from the Rural Community Academy, all the while the poor little rural school was in the hole for $25,000 (see page 1).
All in all, Connections Academy has made over $10 million from Indiana taxpayers so far, and it isn’t going to end anytime soon.
When residents in Dugger ask why the state doesn’t have any funding or small grants to help keep their two schools in existence, they might want to know that one of the main reasons is Jeb Bush. Let’s hope it works out in Dugger, and if parents do decide to start a community-led school, they should know that there is one now in existence in Indianapolis, Project Libertas, a private "Freeway School" which opened after the powers-that-be closed its charter school for political reasons. It is doing great work for its kids, parents, and the community, all without help from the millionaires.