Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #42– November 1, 2016

Dear Friends,

[Note: There is no link between “Vic’s Election Notes on Education” and any organization.]


Will the voters of Indiana remember?

Over 1.3 million voters cast ballots for Glenda Ritz in 2012, more than the total cast for Mike Pence in the 2012 Governor’s race.

Over 1.3 million voters thought they had corrected the direction of education of Indiana by voting for Glenda Ritz over Tony Bennett. They thought the State Superintendent of Public Instruction could lead education policy.

The correction away from Tony Bennett’s policies didn’t happen. Governor Mike Pence blocked her efforts to carry out the education policies she had run on including fewer high stakes tests. He showed all Hoosier voters that the real person needed to change the direction of education in Indiana is a new governor.

Mike Pence moved quickly to marginalize the power of the State Superintendent in ways that had never been done before:
  • He set up his own education agency in competition with the Indiana Department of Education, a move which became so controversial he had to back away from it.
  • He appointed members of the State Board of Education determined to question every policy proposal brought by Superintendent Ritz and to challenge her leadership.
  • He gave the State Board of Education members their own independent staff and attorneys to monitor Ritz’s every action, a situation never envisioned or even hinted at when Governor Orr reorganized the State Board of Education into the current structure in 1984.
  • He actively supported Senate Bill 1 in the 2015 General Assembly to have Glenda Ritz removed as chair of the State Board while she was still in her first elected term.

Were the 1.3 million voters outraged as I was by this political blockade on the part of Governor Pence?

Governor Pence acted as if the election of Glenda Ritz meant nothing about changing Tony Bennett’s policies. The voters need to deliver the message again on November 8th.

Will voters in Indiana remember all these efforts to undermine the elected State Superintendent and will they be outraged enough to put her back in office, this time with a Governor friendly to her policies, John Gregg?

That would be the best plan to move Indiana forward to solve problems of high stakes testing, teacher shortages and privatization that form the legacy of the Tony Bennett era.

Voters have only one shot every four years to influence policies of the Governor and the State Superintendent. In between elections, voters couldn’t stop the efforts of Governor Pence to undermine the powers of the elected State Superintendent, but they can have their say now on November 8th.

I hope you will join me in supporting a team that agrees on education policy: Glenda Ritz for State Superintendent and John Gregg for Governor.
[Please note: Indiana Code 3-14-1-17 says that government employees including public school employees may not “use the property of the employee’s government employer to” support the “election or defeat of a candidate” and may not distribute this message “on the government employer’s real property during regular working hours.” Ironically, the law does not prevent private school employees from using computers purchased with public voucher money to distribute campaign materials. Private schools now financed in part by public voucher dollars have retained all rights under Indiana’s voucher laws to engage in partisan political campaigns.]

A Positive Re-election Campaign While Voters Remember Senate Bill 1

Glenda Ritz should be commended in the current re-election campaign for running on her positive record and for not reminding the voters about the blatant political attempts to undermine her tenure in office. She has maintained her focus on student learning and school improvement and has helped 193 schools get off the list of low-performing schools. She is fighting to make optional Pre-K available to all families who want it. In her campaign commercials to date, she has not reminded voters of how Governor Pence undermined the authority of the State Superintendent and the Indiana Department of Education.

Nevertheless, the voters should remember the Governor’s political attacks. Senate Bill 1, passed by the General Assembly in April 2015, was a direct affront to the power of voters. Since 1908, the State Superintendent had served as chair of the State Board of Education. Senate Bill 1 removed that power from the State Superintendent and gave the power to name the chair to the appointees of the Governor on the State Board. Diminishing the powers of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction was an obvious symbol of diminishing Indiana’s priority on public education.

Senate Bill 1 as proposed removed the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board immediately, even before the end of her first elected term of office. At the last minute, apparently thinking that voters would be outraged by this level of partisanship, the General Assembly supermajority backed off and left Glenda Ritz as chair of the State Board until after the 2016 election. Going forward, members of the State Board which are mostly appointed by the Governor will elect the chair.

Therefore in the November 8th election, voters have less power. Voters can no longer directly select the chair of the State Board of Education but only indirectly through a vote for the Governor.

Was Senate Bill 1 really the way democracy is supported to work? The voters in 2012 had a chance to ratify the policies of State Superintendent Tony Bennett, but they didn’t. They chose instead to elect State Superintendent Ritz, decisively. The 1.3 million voters were extremely clear.

According to Senate Bill 1, however, the voters were wrong. The voters do not, according to Senate Bill 1, have the power to pick the chair of the State Board of Education. The Governor and his activist board members did not like the priorities and policies of the new State Superintendent. They systematically worked for two years to diminish her power in order to win the philosophical battles on education policies including debates on teacher training, teacher evaluations, student testing, administrator training, and school letter grades.

In my observation, this effort began in July 2013 in the first meeting of the newly appointed board when Superintendent Ritz was presenting her vision for improving reading. She is after all a literacy specialist and she did after all win the election, but her presentation was interrupted and cut off by one board member and tabled before she could even finish the presentation. Two years later, the Governor’s efforts to take complete control of education policy culminated in a legislative priority in the 2015 General Assembly to permanently reduce the powers of the State Superintendent.

Senate Bill 1 was a partisan bill that raised the powers of appointed State Board members above the powers of the voters. It clearly diminished our democracy.

We pride ourselves on being a democracy with powers of government derived from the voters. Clearly Senate Bill 1 took power from the voters. It was wrong to do that. The voters need to send the message again, this time by voting for both Glenda Ritz and a Governor that will support her policies, John Gregg.

Senate Bill 1 took power from the voters, an affront which should be remembered on November 8th.

The best response to Senate Bill 1 is for the voters to elect John Gregg. He will appoint State Board members who support the policies of Glenda Ritz.

On September 26, 2016 speaking at the ISBA conference at the Indianapolis Convention Center, John Gregg said, “When my running mate and I win, that is the moment the war against public education ends.” (Indianapolis Star, 9-27-16, p.6A)

May it be so. I hope you will vote for Glenda Ritz for State Superintendent and John Gregg for Governor on November 8th.

Thanks for your strong advocacy for public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

There is no link between “Vic’s Election Notes on Education” and any organization. Please contact me at vic790@aol.com to add an email address or to remove an address from the distribution list.

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.


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