I still hope Jennifer McCormick turns out to be a good superintendent of public instruction, one who looks out for students, teachers and public schools. But my optimism takes a hit when I look at her campaign finance reports for this year’s election.
McCormick got a big surge of late cash — $100,000 in October – from Hoosiers for Quality Education, the pro-voucher and anti-union organization started by Carmel businessman Fred Klipsch. In 2016, the group gave the Republican candidate $130,000, more than one-third of all she raised.
Hoosiers for Quality Education, despite its name, isn’t a grass-roots organization of Indiana folks advocating for better schools. Its funding comes from a handful of big donors, many of them out of state. They include Red Apple Development, a sister company of Florida-based Charter Schools USA, and K-12 Management, a for-profit that runs online charter schools.
Over the years, much of the group’s money has come from the American Federation for Children, a group headed by the Michigan Republican activist Betsy DeVos, reportedly a leading contender to be named secretary of education by President-elect Donald Trump.
The American Federation for Children PAC restocked its coffers this year with over a half million dollars from DeVos and her husband Dick, an Amway heir, and $300,000 from Alice and Jim Walton, two of the siblings who own over half of Walmart. It got $100,000 from Tennessee GOP rainmaker James Haslam.
The sad thing is, McCormick didn’t need the money. All she needed on Nov. 8 was an R beside her name.
She got 53.4 percent of the vote to 46.6 percent for Democratic incumbent Glenda Ritz. Ritz raised more campaign money, much of it coming from the Indiana State Teachers Association.
McCormick has talked a good game about putting students first and getting politics out of the office, implicitly rejecting the partisanship that has dogged the office since Ritz’s predecessor, Republican Tony Bennett, was elected in 2008.
But when a group with an explicit agenda provides the bulk of a candidate’s financial support, it’s hard to turn away when they come asking for favors. As the saying goes, you dance with who brung you. Let’s hope McCormick keeps room on her dance card for the rest of us.
UPDATE: Trump announced shortly after this was posted that Betsy DeVos is his choice to be secretary of education.