Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 3, 2014

MARK HEINIG: Fight for control of public schools

Potential casualties in this conflict: your children.

Kokomo Tribune

---- — 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.

Virtual schools, some chartered and some public, may become more popular because they allow students to take more courses at various times and locations. Any course not requiring laboratory work can be taught online to students in their homes. And it’s cheaper. There are fewer teachers to pay and fewer buildings to maintain.

Yet, parents would need to arrange much more supervision or provide it themselves. How would it affect two-income families? Would some of them be forced to sacrifice income and allow one parent to stay home with the children? How much economic hardship would this cause?

My son and his wife are both teachers. Until all of their children were old enough for public school, they did manage to pay for excellent day care. It cost them about 35 percent of their combined salaries for 10 years. They believed it was worth the price.

I think most Hoosier parents would agree, but how many can afford it in today’s economy? How many parents will have to settle for less expensive, lower quality day care or depend on help from friends and relatives? Substantial financial aid from Indianapolis would mean wealthy people must pay higher taxes. How likely is that in fiscally conservative Indiana?

Protecting teachers’ jobs isn’t the problem that some think. College-educated people often have marketable skills in several fields. Every year gifted educators begin new careers or retire early. Frustration, not compensation, is the main reason. Some leave because they aren’t free to decide what to teach and how to do it. Others seek opportunities where their job security does not depend on circumstances beyond their control. If students refuse to cooperate and teachers get no support from administrators and parents, many resign.

Despite a more optimistic outlook, the State Board of Education and Superintendent Ritz will continue to clash on some issues until the next election. Then the voters will decide who’s right and who’s wrong. Will they favor the board members appointed by the governor and his predecessors or the superintendent elected by the people? It probably depends how much schools improve between now and then. The potential casualties are our children. Is this teaching them about democracy as it should be? Not at all!

Mark Heinig Jr. of Kokomo is a retired teacher and principal. Contact him at markjr1708@gmail.com.