Indiana officials to Ritz voters: Drop dead

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 Continue reading

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What happens when parents pull the trigger for a charter school conversion?

A little-noticed provision in the education reform agenda of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett is for a “parent trigger” law that would allow the state to “turn around” a failing school if 51 percent of parents request the change.

The idea is modeled on a California law that took effect in January. That law is having its first test this month in Compton, and tempers are flaring, according to coverage in the Los Angeles Times.

A group called Parent Revolution conducted a petition drive to convert Compton’s McKinley Elementary School to a charter school. Last week, it turned in signatures said to represent 62 percent of the school’s parents.

Now the California Board of Education is asking the state attorney general to investigate allegations of deceit and intimidation in connection with the effort – one parent, for example, said she thought she was signing a petition calling for beautification of the school.

Parent Revolution is fighting back. Its website blames the controversy on “lies and a misinformation campaign” by McKinley staff determined to prevent change.

According to the Times, McKinley’s test scores have improved by 77 points in the past two years, but it remains in the lowest 10 percent of California schools by student performance.

The parent trigger idea seems to envision grass-roots efforts in which parents rise up and take over their children’s failing schools. But Parent Revolution is a spin-off of the nonprofit Green Dot charter schools, which have been pledged $20 million from billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad, according to a favorable profile of Green Dot founder Steve Barr in Scholastic Administrator.

Wall Street Journal columnist David Feith says Indiana is one of five states where lawmakers plan to introduce parent trigger legislation in the next six months.