Melton and McCormick bring listening tour to Bloomington

Sen. Eddie Melton said it made obvious sense to invite Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick to join him on a statewide listening tour, even if they do represent different political parties.

Sen. Eddie Melton, at left, and Jennifer McCormick

Sen. Eddie Melton and Jennifer McCormick

“It should not be about Republican or Democrat at the end of the day when we talk about our children,” he said Thursday during a stop in Bloomington.

Indeed, 12 years ago, no one would have given a second thought to officials from opposite sides of the aisle sharing a stage to talk about schools. But times have changed, and education has become a highly partisan topic. Also, Melton may seek the Democratic nomination for governor. And McCormick is increasingly on the outs with her fellow Republican office-holders.

With 16 stops in July and August, the tour is generating some buzz, politically and policy-wise.

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Candidates should name pick for education leader

Candidates for Indiana governor in 2020 should put their education cards on the table when they start campaigning. That means they should announce whom they will appoint as secretary of education.

At the latest, they should do this by the time of the Republican and Democratic state conventions in June 2020. That’s when candidates for the chief state education officer would have been nominated in the past. Better yet, they should announce their choice during the campaign for the May 2020 primaries.

For most of Indiana’s history, the state superintendent of public instruction has been chosen by the voters. But this year, legislators voted to make the position one that’s appointed by the governor. They also changed its name to secretary of education.

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DeVos money big in Indiana politics

News stories about Betsy DeVos, selected by President-elect Donald Trump to be the next U.S. secretary of education, often say she’s not well known outside of Michigan. But you can bet Indiana Republican legislators know who she is. DeVos money has been key to building the state’s GOP super-majority.

Betsy DeVos chairs the American Federation for Children, which promotes private school vouchers and deregulation of charter schools. According to campaign finance reports, she and her husband and their adult children have given the group’s political action committee over $1.4 million since 2010.

The American Federation for Children PAC also has had big contributions from for-profit charter school companies, hedge fund managers and the Walton family, majority owners of Walmart.

The federation funds school choice initiatives in several states. In Indiana, its on-the-ground affiliate is Hoosiers for Quality Education, formerly Hoosiers for Economic Growth. American Federation for Children has given the advocacy organization $1.2 million since 2010, according to campaign reports.

Hoosiers for Quality Education in turn helped fund the campaigns of Republican candidates for Indiana superintendent of public instruction: It gave $90,000 to Tony Bennett’s losing campaign in 2012 and $130,000 to Jennifer McCormick’s successful campaign this year. But the bulk of the $3 million it has spent on Indiana campaigns since 2008 has gone to GOP candidates for the state House and Senate. Typically, the money is targeted to contests that could be competitive.

Fred Klipsch, the founder of Hoosiers for Quality Education, boasted at an American Federation for Children-sponsored policy summit in 2012 that the group and its allies had spent $4.4 million to push an agenda of vouchers, expanded charter schools and other reforms through the state legislature. Continue reading

Political context explains shaky support for Common Core

One of the great mysteries of education politics is the way the near-universal support for the Common Core State Standards has come under siege, primarily from the tea-party right but also from the left. Jeremy Anderson, president of the Education Commission of the States, made some sense of it this week in a policy chat sponsored by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

Anderson pointed out that most of the governors and chief state school officers who were behind the Common Core movement are no longer in office. They’ve been replaced by newbies who don’t have ownership of the standards and, in some cases, are worried about political blowback. And state legislators, who weren’t much involved in the Common Core push to begin with, have had their heads spun by the dizzying storm of claims and counterclaims about the standards.

More than half the states elected new governors in 2002, Anderson said; and 25 of those governors were re-elected in 2006. Others, like Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, were elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2008. Those governors and their chief state school officers were the constituency for Common Core. Under the No Child Left Behind law, they watched their states try to measure progress against a mish-mash of standards, some rigorous and some not. They decided a national effort was in order.

The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers announced plans for Common Core in 2009, and 46 states almost immediately signed on. But it would take several years to create the standards, and several more to phase them in. They wouldn’t take effect until 2014.

“That’s the reality of what we deal with in education,” Anderson said. “These things take time. It’s a culture change.” Continue reading