By Carol Burris
The year was 1996. The event was called an “After Dinner” conversation. The place was the Indiana estate of encyclopedia salesman turned insurance giant Steve Hilbert. The discussion leader was Mike Pence.
“There is no reason even debating the abysmal, atrocious failure of the public school monopoly anymore,” opined Mitch Daniels, then an executive at Eli Lily, and later governor of the state.
The other guests were eager to agree, referring to the public schools as “doomed,” while claiming only competition and an “outside force” could solve the problem. Businessman Fred Klipsch said that private schools, like inner city Catholic schools, were the answer.
When Mickey Mauer of the Indianapolis Business Journal said that the Carmel Schools were doing a good job, Hilbert jumped in to tell him he was wrong. “You can see every conceivable type of child that you never thought you would see in the Carmel School System.” Hilbert was also bothered that Indiana’s “wonderful family values” did not have those values reflected in its public schools. (Hilbert would later be called “Indiana’s Tanning King” and enter into a deal with Donald Trump’s wife that would eventually wind up in court.)
The “After Dinner” conversation Hilbert hosted, however, was a serious and prescient warning. In the years that followed, three of those dinner guests — Daniels, Pence and Klipsch — would be major players in the quest to privatize traditional public education in Indiana.
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