Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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January 3, 2014

MARK HEINIG: Fight for control of public schools

Potential casualties in this conflict: your children.

Is the struggle for control of our Indiana schools finally over? Maybe yes, maybe no! Does Gov. Mike Pence still resent the voters’ choice of Glenda Ritz as super-intendent of public instruction? Probably! He has transferred as much control as he dares from the state superintendent to the Indiana State Board of Education. His critics strongly object to this.

Their objections may explain his interest in mediation. Whether you like Pence or not, you must admit he is intelligent and well-educated. If he aspires to future elected office, he must change his image from warrior to peacemaker. Successful mediation could help, but his choice of a mediator is questionable.

The National Association of State Boards of Education’s dedication to the interests of its constituent state boards suggests the possibility of bias. Some of Pence’s opponents may have feared the NASBE would mediate with a stacked deck. If so, it is not yet apparent. The initial results seem helpful. If the NASBE tries to stack the deck against Ritz, it will come in a later hand. The first one appears promising.

Recently, two critics of Ritz have stated teachers elected her to oppose Indiana’s school voucher and charter school programs. They also claim teachers elected her to preserve their jobs. I disagree! Because I taught in all three types of schools, public, nonpublic and charter, I can offer a few more thoughts for Hoosiers to consider.

Public school teachers alone couldn’t have elected Ritz. Many public school teachers dislike vouchers and probably voted for her. However, there aren’t enough of them, 62,258, to elect her without help. She won by 142,039 votes. Even if every teacher voted for her, 79,781 more Hoosiers did too.

Indiana’s school vouchers won’t completely disappear, but they may diminish. Most nonpublic schools are religious. They adhere to the beliefs of specific denominations. Those beliefs aren’t usually negotiable. Some former public school students cannot adapt to the beliefs and the stricter behavior standards of a religious school. Charter schools will survive, but some may not thrive. Their performance is hard to assess because they have so many variables.

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