RICH JAMES: Hollywood should watch Indiana's blockbuster

2013-09-04T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Hollywood should watch Indiana's blockbusterBy Rich James nwitimes.com
September 04, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Psst!

You guys in Hollywood are missing out on a great film that continues to unfold in Indiana.

It has all the makings of a wonderful movie – money, fraud, deceit and politics – lots of politics.

It would have to be rated R for Republican, or maybe Rip-off.

Just when you thought you had seen the last of the Tony Bennett charter-school scandal, another chapter is unfolding.

Tony, you may recall, is the fellow who took an axe, rather than a scalpel, to the public education system in Indiana. Teachers didn’t like it and were the driving force in defeating Tony’s bid for re-election as superintendent of public instruction.

One of the things Tony helped institute was a grading system for all public schools in the state, including charter schools.

Perhaps it is only fitting that such a reckless approach to education led to his downfall.

When Tony’s grading system gave a C to Christel House Charter School, the lid came off a can of worms. Tony ordered the C changed to an A because the school was operated by Christel DeHaan, a major donor to the Indiana Republican Party.

When the quid pro quo scam leaked, Tony was in Florida running education there. He quickly resigned, but denied any wrongdoing.

And as often is the case with any scandal, things began to unravel.

It turns out that Christel House wasn’t the only charter school to have its grade raised. And, yes, Tony gave the order every time.

Turns out there were dozens of charter schools that had their grades hiked.

Grading schools was a Republican idea. It makes so little sense that comparing apples and oranges almost seems logical.

Despite the hopes of Republicans who embraced charter schools, it apparently turns out that the charters weren’t providing a better education than the traditional public schools. At least that’s what Tony’s grading system was telling us.

And then came the real kicker.

A report by this newspaper indicates the Legislature earlier this year passed a law forgiving $91.2 million in loans to charter schools. It was kind of like wiping out a gambling debt.

Charter school proponents argue the $91.2 million constituted grants, not loans. So why the need for special legislation?

While traditional public schools are losing money to charter schools, they also have had to seek loans from the Common School Fund. And they have to pay it back.

You’d think the charter shenanigans would have resulted in a hue and cry calling for an apology. Nothing yet.

The voters quietly went about dumping Tony after his attack on teachers. Based on the charter school mess, you’ve got to wonder if there will be a sequel.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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