Hoosiers who voted for Glenda Ritz for state superintendent of public instruction no doubt did so for a variety of reasons. But many of those reasons added up to this: Ritz was an unapologetic champion of public education and it often seemed that her opponent, Tony Bennett, wasn’t.
So it’s a slap in the face to the voters who elected Ritz that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Republican legislators are now pushing bill after bill to undermine public schools. For example:
// House Bill 1003 would expand Indiana’s private-school voucher program, removing the requirement that students spend a year in a public school to qualify and providing generous taxpayer tuition subsidies for many families who don’t need the help. The House Education Committee approved the bill last week, 9-3, and it could go to the full House this week.
// House Bill 1358 is a “parent trigger” bill – it sets up procedures for a public school to be converted to a charter school or taken over by the State Board of Education if parents of 51 percent of the students sign petitions calling for the conversion. Sponsored by Rep. Todd Huston, who was Bennett’s chief of staff, it’s scheduled for a hearing in the Education Committee on Tuesday.
// Several bills are being considered that would reduce Ritz’s authority as state superintendent or transfer functions and programs involving education from the Department of Education, which Ritz heads, to state agencies controlled by the governor.
The real thumb-in-the-eye to voters is the voucher expansion bill, which has the backing of Pence and House leadership. Karen Francisco of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette runs down its effects in this post. It would transfer an estimated $47 million from public to private schools, boost the minimum voucher amount by 44 percent and triple the tax deduction allowed for private-school expenses.
“Any lawmaker who supported the voucher bill two years ago as a limited effort to increase school choice was duped,” Francisco writes. “The legislation was a first, small step in privatizing education and tearing down public education.”
Ritz got over 1.3 million votes – nearly 53 percent of those cast, despite running as a Democrat in a Republican year in a heavily Republican state. You’d think Pence and the legislative leaders might have noticed. But when you’ve got a super-majority in both the House and Senate, you can do whatever you want, the voters be damned.