man praying with bibleAn Indianapolis, Indiana, resident, Jacqueline Joyner Cissell, better known as Jackie, has been on a quest for school choice since at least February 1998, when she and think tank Project 21’s Roderick Conrad appeared on Christian radio’s “Family News and Focus” and “discussed the snubbing of former Congressman Floyd Flake and school vouchers.” Although no transcript or recording of the show is available, it is safe to say she was speaking of the Congressional Black Caucus, which was opposed to school vouchers. At this time, Cissell was a minority affairs consultant liaison for the Indianapolis Power & Light Company, an outfit whose members would end up joining the corporate school reform movement in the next decade. Rev. Flake, in 1997, had just resigned from the U.S. House where he represented the 6th New York Congressional District. When the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) originated in August 2000 after a 1999 conference on options for African Americans sponsored by Howard Fuller at the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University in Milwaukee, the city where the voucher movement began in 1990, Cissell was elected to its national board, as was Flake and Fuller’s wife, Deborah McGriff, who had been carrying out corporate duties with Edison Schools since 1993.

A God-fearing Republican, Jackie Cissell was a first-class contender to take rich white men’s money, which was BAEO’s plan all along. And a year after BAEO’s formation, Cissell was circling with some powerful black men who were supporting the white man’s cause to turn America into a corporate-controlled theocracy. Referred to as an education specialist and talk show host, even though she has no background in education, Cissell, in 2001, began her career with Black America’s Political Action Committee (BAMPAC), the anti-abortion/pro-school prayer, pro-social security privatization, pro-school voucher political action committee Alan Keyes formed in the early 90s to funnel money to Republican candidates. Keyes is the homophobic, Ivy League-educated, African-America who was Ronald Reagan’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Keyes co-founded BAMPAC with Alvin Williams, a George H. W. Bush presidential transition team member who later took a place on BAEO’s board in 2005.  In 2002, BAMPAC conducted a BAEO/Heritage Foundation-pumped survey declaring that most black parents wanted neighborhood charter schools. Jackie Cissell had other school reform acquaintances, too. From January 2000 to March 2001, she was onboard the Greater Educational Opportunities (GEO) Foundation, a charter school operating outfit run by Kevin Teasley.

BAEO members and Teasley ran with the same corporate school reform crowd. As a former member of the Heritage Foundation, the Reason Foundation, the Reagan Office of Public Liaison, and other rightwing groups, Kevin Teasley has been a behind-the-scenes figure in the voucher/charter movement for at least two decades. While at the Reason Foundation in California, Teasley was associated with the voucher group Excellence Through Choice-in-Education League (EXCEL), which was funded by Indiana’s own Dan Quayle, William Bennett (who once desired to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education), and Milton Friedman (whose Foundation for Educational Choice is in Indianapolis), a group which then-California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig said was attempting to use taxpayer money to breed “cult schools” that could end up becoming “David Duke Academies.” After much propaganda and money by voucher vultures, however, the voucher measure on the November 1992 California ballot did not pass.

In Wisconsin, Teasley headed the American Education Reform Foundation (AERF), a lobbying arm of the voucher front group American Education Reform Council (AERC). AERC’s board included BAEO’s Howard Fuller and Walmart’s John Walton. Funded by the Walton Family and the Bradley Foundation, AERC was very active in the turn-of-the-century voucher campaigns in Colorado and other states. As People for the American Way noted in an in-depth study entitled “Community Voice or Captive of the Right? A Closer Look at the Black Alliance for Educational Options,” Teasley—then AERF president— and Hoosier J. Patrick Rooney were investigated in 1997 by the Wisconsin election board for their questionable involvement with Mark Block, the campaign manager for the re-election of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox. Wilcox was pro-voucher so it was essential to re-elect him to continue the Milwaukee voucher program. Although Teasley and AERF were found not to be in election law violation, Teasley supposedly raised over $10,000 for Wilcox’s campaign after he wrote letters to voucher backers. Wilcox won, but he and Mark Block (who now directs the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity in Wisconsin) were both fined for illegally coordinating a get-out-the-vote effort.

As the Black Commentator has pointed out, Cissell’s position at the GEO Foundation was funded in part by the Bradley and the Friedman Foundation. Both groups were also funding BAEO at the time, as was the Walton Foundation and AERC. The Walton Foundation was also funding GEO.  

When Cissell left her GEO post in March 2001, she hopped over to J. Patrick Rooney’s pro-voucher Educational CHOICE Charitable Trust (started in 1989 or 1990 and still-active) until September, and as the leader of BAEO Indy, Cissell welcomed BAEO’s Rev. Floyd Flake to the city.  Floyd, now president of Edison Schools, headlined the July 2001 event “Education Reform and the Black Community: Understanding Your Options.” Sponsored by the Indy BAEO, the Black Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana Black Expo, the Light of the Christian Church, the Urban Christian Schools Coalition, and the Indianapolis Recorder, this pro-choice celebration was touted by the Heartland Institute which interviewed Cissell. David Harris, then running Indy-mayor Bart Peterson’s charter division and now with the Mind Trust, also spoke at the conference. Edison, which had spent $140,000 that year on lobbying, was wishing for an Indiana miracle. In April 2001, Edison was stopped from taking over five public schools in New York City after parents voted against the for-profit company. The month before Flake’s Indy speech, the San Francisco Board of Education severed its ties to Edison for “discriminating against black students, urging special-education students to apply elsewhere and threatening teachers.” By August, Edison was taking heat in Philadelphia for Flake’s past connections to former congressman Tom Ridge, who was now Pennsylvania’s governor.

But before too long, Cissell watched the Edison/BAEO charter dream materialize in Indiana. In a no-bid contract with Perry Township, Edison stamped its name on two Indianapolis schools in 2002 and 2003, the Jeremiah Gray-Edison Elementary School and the Rosa Parks-Edison Elementary School. As NUVO’s Jack Miller pointed out, the Lilly Foundation handed a $4.6 million grant to Perry Township to pay for Edison’s services, at a 17 percent higher cost per student than other schools in the district. The Lilly Foundation is the school choice/venture philanthropic branch of Eli Lilly, the drug company Mitch Daniels had just left as Senior Vice President for Corporate Strategy and Policy for a budget-slashing spot in Bush’s White House. These two schools are still managed by Edison.

Jackie and Mitch Help Out the Disappearing Pastor

A Mitch Daniels’ 2004 Aiming Higher PAC payrollee, Jackie now assistant-directs the Indiana Division of Aging and is the community relations liaison with the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. In her governmental role, Cissell pressed the hiring of a chaplain, Rev. Michael Latham, for FSSA in 2007, an act which eventually led to a May 2007 lawsuit being filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. Latham, who didn’t learn to read until after graduating from high school, holds no degrees and does not have the credentials to work in nursing homes, hospitals, or psychiatric units in Indiana. However, he did deliver a benediction for Governor Daniels’ inaugural event in Allen County, the day Daniels was first elected in 2004.

As a part of his job, Latham was to recruit chaplains to oversee services for the FSSA, but he disappeared from the office for months on end, leading employees to believe the program had been cancelled. Latham was still being paid $60,000 yearly and ranked as the highest paid chaplain in Indiana.

By late September 2007, Latham was taken off the FSSA payroll, the program was ended, and the lawsuit dismissed. As the New York Times’ noted, chaplains have legal holding in government agencies where employees are heavily stressed (police, military, and fire-stations, for instance), but there seems to be no need for a chaplain program in the FSSA, which is essentially responsible for aiding the poor.

Whether or not Cissell persuaded Mr. Latham, a former Fort Wayne NAACP leader, that corporate school choice is a civil rights issue is not known, but he did attend a symposium this year the BAEO held, as Cissell mentioned to Pastor Dix recently.

Pastor Dix Stands up for BAEO

In April 2011, as the voucher bill moved into the Indiana Senate, Cissell followed state school superintendent Tony Bennett as a guest on Pastor Raymond Dix, Jr.’s “Higher Ground” radio program on WLTH AM 1370 Gary/Merrillville. Dix is a black conservative senior pastor at Berean Fellowship Church.  During the airing, Cissell stressed that the biggest challenges to school choice over the last 11 years have come from the Black Caucus.  Claiming that Obama opposed vouchers because he was in bed with the teachers unions, Cissell echoed Kevin Chavous’ statement that black kids are wrongly classified as special ed students and receive the most expulsions in the public schools. In our “educational apartheid,” Cissell said, the powers that be are now basing prison construction on the number of kids who are being expelled from school and dropping out.

As the radio show progressed, Cissell narrated how state chaplain Latham joined pastor Vic Davis, from the Spirit of God Accelerated Church in Gary, and Ken Sullivan, a pastor from Indianapolis, at the BAEO national symposium in Jersey City, New Jersey, in March, which hosted 20 Hoosiers and 500 people from 26 states, held a clergy roundtable, and taught mini-sessions for parents to learn how to advocate for kids and talk to teachers at their schools.

One gentleman called in and promoted the GEO Foundation’s 21st Century Charter School in Gary.  As an original board member of the charter, he spoke of the backlash the GEO Foundation had experienced when they first opened the school after BAEO held meetings attended by Howard Fuller and then-U.S. Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, to pump the charter. Unmentioned, however, was the fact that the 21st Century school has been in trouble  since 2006, when parents first organized a class boycott, complaining the school had no nurse, was teaching basic math in upper level courses, and teachers were using extreme punishing techniques on students. Two teachers were suspended for a week for hitting students with drumsticks and touching them inappropriately. Even worse, the following week of that May boycott, one teacher’s aide was arrested for choking a student with a trash bag in February of that year in a social studies class until the 12-year-old boy turned red and couldn’t breathe. More recently, the state Board of Accounts has cited the Gary school for sloppy financial record keeping and poor management.

When the ISTA, several teachers, and a few ministers filed suit on July 1, 2011, against Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett’s voucher law, Dix published a lengthy commentary in the Sun-Times the same day, stating that those who didn’t go to public schools are the authorities over them. Although he didn’t quite have the corporate school reformers’ talking points perfected, he gave it his best shot, writing that “I believe myself to be better qualified than the state of Indiana to determine the best educational course for my children. In fact, so did my parents when they chose to labor hard to send me to a private high school with no help from the state.” Someone must have tipped Dix off that the lawsuit was coming, and to stress that voucher money will not be given directly to private schools, but instead be given to parents to give to private schools,  most of them religious ones.

Dix and the BAEO had no reason to worry. The Institute for Justice, which has been in bed with the BAEO for years now, came to the rescue to decide, as they nicely put it, to intervene on behalf of parents in Indiana” to support the new voucher school bill. Along with Daniels’ $600 million throat-slash to public education, it was a state bailout to the Catholic schools and another swipe at destroying public education. As a result, most Indiana low-income kids Dix supposedly supports will now be wounded by budget cuts and/or sent to the corporate dystopia of the charters, where only the bottom-line matters.

School Vouchers and the Happy Ever After

In August, Jackie Cissell must have been happy, too, when Marion Superior Court Judge Michael Keele denied requests to halt the Daniels’ voucher bill from moving forward, offering little hope the program will be declared unconstitutional when the final decision is made. Both Daniels and Cissell have played the corporate school reform part for years, she at BAEO and BAMPAC, and he by founding and funding the Oaks Academy, a religious private school in Indy. Now Indiana’s voucher system will trump even Milwaukee’s program, which, by all measures, has seen negative results. Cissell’s friends’ old company, Edison, was making a big comeback in the Hoosier state, too, since Tony Bennett (whose campaign was aided by Edison donations) and the IDOE selected the company to “turnaround” Gary’s Roosevelt Career & Technical Academy. A month before Cissell’s Dix interview, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard announced he was closing GEO Foundation’s Fountain Square Academy because of low performance, even though the group received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education less than a year ago.  But Teasley now has Rupert Murdoch’s Wireless Generation working with one of his charters and is hoping another rich white man, Joel Klein, who now leads Wireless Generation, can shake some more magic his way.

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A Walt Whitman scholar, Doug Martin is the author of the upcoming Hoosier School Heist to be published this year by Brooks Publications. His teaching experience has covered K-graduate school. His exposures of corporate education reform have appeared or been referenced in Diane Ravitch's Blog, Washington Post Answer Sheet blog, the Associated Press, Schools Matter, Parents Across America blog, Charter School Scandals, Susan Ohanian's Testing Atrocities and Outrages, @ The Chalk Face, The Huntington Teacher, KochWatch.org, Peg with Pen, the NPR/State Impact Florida, NPR/State Impact Indiana, the Pulp (Broward-Palm Beach New Times), Big Education Ape, School Matters (Indiana), A Teacher's Fight, Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education blog, NUVO, the Indianapolis Star, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Scathing Purple Musings, Terre Haute's Tribune Star, the Times of Northwest Indiana, the Post-Tribune, HoosierEd.com, and Firedoglake, among others. Doug currently blogs at Jim Horn's Schools Matter (http://www.schoolsmatter.info/). You can find more of Doug's writings at: http://my.firedoglake.com/dougmartin

2 Responses to “Jackie Cissell and the Reverends for Corporate School Choice” Subscribe

  1. Wilson46201 September 25, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    and now Jackie is running for an at-large seat as a Republican for the Indianapolis City-County Council. She isn’t likely to be elected…

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