In November 2012, the voters of Indiana chose Glenda Ritz, a veteran educator, to become the state’s superintendent of public instruction. Ritz, a Democrat, upset the incumbent, a Republican named Tony Bennett who had become a darling of the corporate school reform. She had campaigned against many of Bennett’s key policies, including merit pay for teachers tied to student standardized test scores, vouchers and high-stakes standardized testing. She won more votes than the governor-elect, Mike Pence, and wound up as the only Democrat holding statewide office in the conservative state.
Pence — who has just been chosen by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, to be on his ticket as vice president — was upset with the voters’ choice. Pence quickly declared that he supports “the policies and the progress we’ve made on education,” and, the Evansville Courier and Press reported at the time, that he and the outgoing governor, Mitch Daniels, “began to outline strategies to keep Ritz from reversing policies she campaigned against.”
And Pence, as governor, did just that.
In 2013, Pence created a new education agency in Indiana to help further his own education agenda. It was called the Center for Innovation and Career Education, and, by an executive order signed by the governor, had its own dedicated funding from state agencies and could apply federal funds as well. Ritz said she found out about its creation from news reports, not from the governor himself.
In 2014, however, Pence decided to dissolve the agency even as he made a move to have Ritz removed as chair of the state Board of Education. He successfully pushed a 2015 change in state law to make the chair of the state board not the democratically elected state education superintendent but rather a person chosen by members. Note that board members are largely chosen by the governor, and at that time they had been picked by Pence himself.
Pence said it only made sense to have the chair of the board chosen by the board. So much for the voters.
He also angered Ritz over his changing views on early-childhood-education funding. In 2013, he supported a move by Ritz to apply for federal funds for early-childhood education through President Obama’s Race to the Top competition. Indiana didn’t win but moved to apply again in 2014, with a better chance of success because the criteria had changed. Some $80 million was at stake. Pence suddenly changed his mind and refused to enter the competition, supposedly because of federal requirements that came with the money. Ritz said there weren’t any of significance.
In 2014, however, he did push for — and won — millions in state funding for a pilot prekindergarten program in the state. Then, last month, he decided federal money might not be so bad after all. He wrote a letter to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, saying that he was interested in federal early-education grants under the new K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. He said the pilot had worked well and that the state was now ready to use federal funds to expand it.
Ritz and Pence fought over school choice, with the governor pushing the expansion of charter schools and vouchers, and Ritz thinking that these initiatives took public money away from traditional public schools that educated most students. Earlier this year, Ritz urged state lawmakers not to expand vouchers — which are essentially tax dollars used to pay private school tuition for students — which cover nearly 2.9 percent of Indiana’s students. (In May 2016, a report by the nonprofit Brookings Institution found that Indiana “public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools.”)
It’s worth noting that Ritz and Pence didn’t fight about everything; they, for example, both supported the state’s withdrawal from a multi-state consortium called the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which had been funded with federal dollars to create new standardized tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Indiana had adopted the Core standards in 2010, but decided to replace them in 2014 with new standards, which were endorsed by both Pence and Ritz. Critics said the new Indiana standards were remarkably similar to the Core.
But the overall tenor of their relationship has been adversarial, and so it is no surprise that Ritz’s reelection campaign released this statement upon hearing that Pence has been chosen by Trump:
“Indiana’s teachers, parents and students can rest a little easier knowing that Mike Pence will now be absent from Indiana and soon be unable to force his political agenda on our classrooms,” said Annie Mansfield, campaign manager.
“In his time as Governor, Mike Pence has consistently put politics before Hoosier students. He created a duplicate education agency through executive order. He turned down tens of millions of dollars in desperately needed pre-K funding because of his extreme political ideology. And he removed the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction as Chair of the State Board of Education, disenfranchising 1.3 million Hoosier voters.
“While getting Mike Pence out of the Governor’s race would be a welcome development, Indiana still needs a governor that will work with our elected Superintendent on an education agenda. Hoosiers need John Gregg as our governor because he will support Superintendent Ritz, who has proved time and again that she’ll put our kids first.”