Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ritz Will Review Bennett School Grades; Long Calls Grade Manipulation "Completely Unacceptable"

In the light of the revelations of Tony Bennett's manipulation of his own A-F grading system for schools, Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz says her Department of Education is examining the current A-F grade calculations "to ensure that every school has the grade they earned in 2012; nothing more, nothing less." Meanwhile, Bennett maintains that he urged changes in the grading system because he thought it was flawed: "It is absurd that anyone would believe that I would change the grade of a school based on a political donor or trying to hide schools from accountability. That's fictitious at best and it's totally unfounded." Read the emails, folks; it's absurd to believe anything else.

Happily, Bennett's disingenuous claims aren't selling too well. Republican Senate Pro Tem David Long is calling for annual third-party audits of the A-F grades: "The big issue is the fact that it would appear one or more school's grade was manipulated. That's completely unacceptable. . . . If there's one thing that can't be allowed, it's that any school grades can ever be allowed to be manipulated again." And Pioneer Institute executive director Jim Stergios said Bennett should resign his new position as Florida's education commissioner for violating the trust of Indiana students and parents. "All you have as an official is your credibility. And that people trust you to do the right thing. He has been entrusted with the hopes of parents and the aspirations of children. That's a sacred trust."

Read more reactions to the Bennett school grading scandal here.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Bennett Emails Show Grade for Donor's Charter School Changed From C to A

The same enterprising investigative journalist who exposed Mitch Daniels emails about Howard Zinn has uncovered what might be a worse scandal involving former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett actually falsifying his patented A-F letter grading system for schools to move a Republican donor's charter school from an earned C to an A. Christel House Academy charter school is funded by Christel DeHaan, who "has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders," according to the AP story. When Bennett learned that the school would receive a C grade, he wrote to Gov. Daniels' chief of staff, "They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work." (Think about the Alice in Wonderland logic of that statement!) Later he wrote to her, "This will be a HUGE problem for us." Finally Bennett wrote to his staff as follows:
“I am more than a little miffed about this. I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months.”
And lo, the system was somehow manipulated so that Christel House Academy got the A rating that was HUGE to Bennett. Read more from the Journal and Courier here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Refinancing Saves Lafayette $8.3 Million

Taking advantage of record low interest rates, the City of Lafayette is refinancing 11 bond issues that will save the city a total of $8.3 million, says the Journal and Courier: "The refinancings eliminated $6 million in interest on water pollution control projects; nearly $1.9 million in interest on road and infrastructure improvements; and about $415,000 in interest on parks projects." Mayor Roswarski notes that savings on the park bonds "puts money back in the pockets of taxpayers." The mayor is also optimistic about using the savings on water pollution to help the city meet new federal standards on phosphorous. Read more from the J&C here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Trayvon Martin Could Have Been Me": Pres. Obama's Remarks on the Zimmerman Verdict

Here is President Obama's carefully reasoned and yet personal statement responding to the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. You can read the the text of it here.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Donnelly Opposes House Farm Bill Without Food Stamps

The House of Representatives has passed a farm bill that does not include any funding for food stamps. Sen. Dan Coats (who voted for the Senate-passed farm bill with food stamps included) thinks this is fine: "I think it’s created problems to the point where we ought to identify both of these as essential programs that have to be addressed. I don’t believe they need to be tied together." Sen. Joe Donnelly understands that food stamps were included in the farm bill to win votes of legislators from largely urban states: “In the House’s version, we have no plan to be able to provide a single lunch to a needy child and I don’t see how that passes." Donnelly's biggest concern is House Republicans' lack of any plan for food stamp funding, even in separate legislation. Read more here.

Pelath Reminds Republicans Why Indiana Has a $1.94 Billion Surplus

Gov. Pence and other Republican are touting the unexpected growth in the state's end-of-fiscal-year surplus to $1.94 billion. Gov. Pence says the reserves lay a “foundation for economic growth and prosperity, upon which I believe we will be able to get this economy moving again.” Businesses want fiscal stability: “It is a lead selling point for the state of Indiana. It is an asset to all of our businesses, and it is directly related to job creation."

House Democratic leader Scott Pelath reminds them of an inconvenient truth:
“Families still are struggling to keep their heads above water. Our local schools still must grapple with doing more with less. Thanks to the stubbornness of our leadership, too many families still must rely upon the emergency room as their only health care option. And let us not forget that these huge surplus numbers also were built on providing fewer services for the people of Indiana.”
Read more from the Indy Star here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Legal Costs Rung Up by Republicans Tilting at Ideological Wndmills

Political columnist Brian Howey has a great column on the expenditures of Republican administrations defending "controversial" laws that are transparently unconstitutional. Howey notes the record:
In the past five years, legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly has defunded Planned Parenthood and created new immigration laws, and there have been moves to amend the Indiana Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. In addition, the Indiana attorney general has challenged a key provision in the Affordable Care Act, and the Indiana treasurer attempted to thwart the 2009 merger of Chrysler and Fiat.
The Planned Parenthood law and parts of the immigration bill have been judged unconstitutional. "The irony here," Howey observes, "is that Hoosier lawmakers and officeholders — many carrying a copy of the U.S. Constitution in their pockets — routinely pass legislation that fails to pass constitutional muster." This happens often enough that Indiana has paid $916,426.37 in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees to American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana in 16 lawsuits where ACLU prevailed against the state since 2008. And Richard Mourdock paid $2 million to a New York law firm in a hopeless challenge to the Chrysler/Fiat merger that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear (and which would have put Chrysler out of business and thousands of Hoosiers out of work).

How many taxpayer dollars will be poured down legal drains so that Republican administrators can try to score ideological points? Read Brian Howey's column here.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Rokita and the Limits of Democratic Discourse

Dave Bangert wrote eloquently in Sunday's J&C about the problem that eats at our legislative processes: the ideological intransigence of one party (you can figure out which one) that prevents them from even considering another perspective on questions that are vital to our interests as a country and do, in fact, have more than one side to them. Bangert illustrates this principle with Congressman Todd Rokita's Congress on Your Corner session last week:
"During a question-and-answer time with a West Lafayette teen — one who had been part of a contingent from the local Moms Demand Action, a pro-gun control group — Rokita was pressed on his frequently stated belief that gun ownership is a God-given right protected by the Second Amendment. . . . After some muddy attempts to question Rokita’s use of faith in governing, the question came back to this: You may have a right to defend yourself, but when it comes to gun control, isn’t it the job of the government to set and control those rights? Rokita salted the question: 'No. See, that’s why you’ll never be able to communicate with me this way, because you have a fundamental different perspective on who gives someone the rights found in our Constitution.'"
So Rep. Rokita's belief makes it impossible to speak to the issue with a constituent? How can a democracy run on that basis? Or as Bangert frames the problem:
"So when a constituent asks about how better background checks on gun purchases might fit in with that God-given right and a congressman implies the question itself is proof that there’s no reason to continue the conversation, we have a bigger problem than just a debate over where the Second Amendment begins and ends. . . . Can we just talk here? Apparently only if we’re fundamentally on the same page."
Read Bangert's column here.

Indiana Democratic Party Seeks Interns

Do you know a student or young person looking to gain hands-on experience working in politics? The Indiana Democratic Party is seeking talented and dedicated individuals to fill internship roles at its headquarters in Indianapolis for Fall 2013. This is an outstanding opportunity to get hands-on experience working in the exciting office of a state political party. Positions will be awarded through a competitive application process.

Click here for more information!

If you or someone you know is interested in taking part in the IDP Internship Program, please e-mail Peter Hanscom at phanscom@indems.org or call 317-231-7100.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Donnelly, Coats Split on Immigration Reform Bill

Just for the record, Sen. Joe Donnelly was among the 68-vote majority in favor of the Senate immigration reform bill. While considering it an imperfect bill, he viewed it a step in the right direction. Sen. Coats voted against it because only requires the government to promise increased security measures. Coats is counting on the House to craft “more credible” legislation. What are the odds Sen. Coats will be disappointed in that hope? Read more here.

Pence Has No Alternative if Healthy Indiana Can't Subsititute Medicaid Expansion

Gov. Pence is not preparing an alternative plan if the federal government opts not to recognize Healthy Indiana as an alternative to Medicaid expansion in Indiana. As reported by Northwest Indiana Times:
Debra Minott, Indiana's secretary of the Family and Social Services Administration, told the General Assembly's Health Finance Commission the governor believes preserving the Healthy Indiana Plan, which covers 37,316 participants, is a higher priority than negotiating a Medicaid alternative, which would cover some 400,000 Hoosiers.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence has refused to expand Medicaid eligibility as directed by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, because he believes the federal government will not keep its promises to adequately fund the program.

As a result, Indiana will give up 30,000 jobs and an estimated $10.45 billion in federal money that otherwise would be spent in the state through 2020, according to the Indiana Hospital Association.
And what is the plan for the uncovered Hoosiers if the feds do not recognize Healthy Indiana? "We will be making sure they are aware of the community health centers in their communities, free clinics that are available in multiple places around the state and other safety net-type resources," says Secretary Minott.

So, to summarize, Gov. Pence is willing to leave about 360,000 Hoosiers without health care coverage (not to mention the funds and the jobs) based on his belief that the federal government will keep its word to fund Medicaid expansion.

Read the NWI Times complete coverage here.