The School At The Heart Of Bennett Controversy: The Philanthropy And Philosophy Of Christel DeHaan

Aug 1, 2013

Christel DeHaan
Credit Matt Detrich / Indianapolis Star

Editor's Note:  On Monday, the Associated Press published emails from 2012 showing former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett and his staff in Indiana discussing how to change that state's grading formula to boost the grade of an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor. Below is a brief profile that donor. 

A German immigrant who earned her fortune in time-share properties, Christel DeHaan is the philanthropist behind a foundation dedicated to “breaking the cycle of poverty.”

She’s carried out her foundation’s mission by serving on the board for charter schools which bear her name in Indianapolis, Mexico, South Africa, and Venezuela. Her name also appears on the University of Indianapolis’ Christel DeHaan Center for the Arts.

In Indianapolis, DeHaan financed much of the $130 million construction of “Christel House Academy” in 2002. The school enrolled 524 students in the 2010-2011 academic year from Kindergarten through Ninth Grade. 95 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches — an intentional decision on the part of administrators, who say they sought to serve an underserved group.

DeHaan is a noted supporter of the so-called “school choice” legislation Indiana lawmakers passed this past session to allow more students to decide between public, charter, and private schools, as well as remove caps on the number of charter schools in the state.

DeHaan (or the Christel DeHaan Trust of Chicago) has donated more than $2.3 million in direct campaign contributions since 1997, donating to both Republicans and Democrats on down-ticket races. Her donations at the top of the ticket favor Republicans, from donations to Gov. Mitch Daniels, to state superintendent Tony Bennett, to attorney general Greg Zoeller.