No sooner had veteran teacher Glenda Ritz upset Tony Bennett as schools Superintendent of Public Instruction in Indiana’s election by questioning his corporate-based school reform agenda than unhappy Republican state leaders threw down the gauntlet to Ritz and her supporters.
Here’s what Gov.-Elect Mike Pence (R) said, according to the Evansville Courier & Press:
I want to be very clear: I support the policies and progress that we’ve made on education. We will support that in the next four years, and we will seek for ways to build on that to really put kids first and continue to keep Indiana in the forefront of the kind of education reforms that focus on results.”
He said that voters, by keeping Republican legislative majorities in the state, really liked Bennett’s reforms, a stance that seems to ignore the fact that they tossed him out of office in a race seen as a referendum on the reform laws he pushed through.
Those reforms include state takeover of struggling schools, new teacher evaluations linked to standardized test scores, a statewide voucher program, the expansion of charter schools, the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, and a system to give A through F grades to schools.
Outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) also sent a warning to Ritz (who won with 53 percent of the vote).
The consensus and the momentum for reform and change in Indiana is rock solid. Not one word of those laws is going to be changed unless it’s extended further in the direction of reform.
There’s a board of education I appointed and the new superintendent reports to. Every one of them is pro-reform. We’ve got a very idealistic, pro-reform administration coming in.
There is also some talk that Republican legislators in Indiana will try to reduce the power of the superintendent now that the union-backed Ritz has the job.
The voters of Indiana were not the only ones who sent a message on school reform in Tuesday’s elections. Florida voters rejected a bid by school voucher supporters to allow state funds to go to religious institutions, including religious schools. Voters in Idaho rejected the “Luna laws,” three school reform laws — named for state schools Superintendent Tom Luna — that, among other things, would have required high school students to take two online courses (and for the state to spend $180 million to lease laptops), instituted merit pay for teachers linked to student standardized test scores and set limits on the collective bargaining rights for teachers.
Now there’s some possibility that Bennett will wind up as Florida’s state superintendent, where he is popular with the Board of Education. Bennett is the 2012 head of former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change school reform movement, and Bush still has a lot of influence in the Sunshine State.
The pushback on reform was not total around the country; there were some victories for pro-reform forces who spent big money to win. But there was a strong message in key states that opposition to the corporate-based reform movement is growing by an electorate that increasingly sees it as privatization of public education. The Indiana GOP can pretend Bennett’s ouster doesn’t mean anything, but that would make them bad losers.