Gov. Mike Pence has got this feint-one-way-and-move-another business down to a science. Witness the education agenda that he unveiled yesterday, heading into the 2015 legislative session.
The blockbuster news – the headline generator – was the announcement that Pence is disbanding the Center for Education and Career Innovation, the super-agency that he created 18 months ago. The Republican governor spun this as an olive branch to Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. Ritz heads the Indiana Department of Education, which CECI and the State Board of Education have been doing their best to elbow into irrelevance.
“It is time to take the politics out of education in Indiana, or at least out of the State Board of Education, and get back to the business of investing in our schools in ways that prepare our kids for the future that awaits them,” Pence said.
Never mind that the governor dialed up the politics by creating CECI and naming board members who seem determined to undermine Ritz. He wants credit for making peace.
Pence said the state board will be able to hire its own employees rather than relying Department of Education staff as in pre-CECI days. (It will need a bunch if it’s going to take over school turnaround). That means the feuding with Ritz seems unlikely to abate.
Pence also will ask the legislature to change the law to let the board remove Ritz as chair, which will further lessen her limited ability to influence decision-making.
And much of his education plan is a full-on embrace of the agenda that voters rejected when they picked Ritz over Tony Bennett in 2012. He wants to increase funding for charter schools and private-school vouchers and create a “freedom to teach” initiative that will somehow free schools from unspecified regulations that prevent them from paying teachers what they’re worth.
Pence is on most short lists for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, and a talent for playing to both sides could come in handy. He rejected the Common Core standards – a nod to the tea party – but boasts of Indiana standards that many argue are quite similar. He refused to expand Medicaid but touts a state alternative. He’s bumping poor people off food stamps but doing it for their own good.
His education agenda looks to be more of the same.