Why is the ISTA supporting a Republican culture warrior?

Here’s a question with no clear answer: Why has the Indiana State Teachers Association endorsed a conservative Republican with a weak record on education for re-election to the Indiana Senate?

The decision, to back Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, over Democratic challenger Mary Ann Sullivan of Indianapolis, has politics watchers scratching their heads — and in some cases venting their outrage.

Scott Elliott of the Indianapolis Star calls it “truly a shocker.” IUPUI professor and former Indiana Civil Liberties Union director Sheila Kennedy calls it “inexplicable.” Larry Grau of Indiana Democrats for Education Reform accuses the ISTA of acting out of spite and turning its back on public education. Star columnist Matt Tully insists the endorsement demonstrates “just how morally bankrupt it (the ISTA) is.”

As Elliott and Kennedy point out, it’s not surprising that the ISTA didn’t endorse Sullivan. As a member of the Indiana House, she has taken positions that are anathema to the group. In 2011, she voted for expansion of charter schools, limits on collective bargaining for school employees and test-based evaluation and merit pay for teachers – policies that Gov. Mitch Daniels, Superintendent Tony Bennett and the Republican majority pushed through the legislature. She co-authored the charter-schools bill and co-sponsored the teacher evaluation legislation.

But Waltz also voted for the 2011 education bills that Sullivan supported. And he backed the most questionable of that year’s education measures: taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers for private schools. Sullivan voted no on vouchers. So why wouldn’t the ISTA at least sit this contest out? Continue reading