Guest column: More than an elected office at stake in attack on Ritz

(Minor editing was done for readability. – Admin.)

John Gregg

John Gregg is a Democrat who served as speaker of the Indiana House and president of Vincennes University.

Special to The StatehouseFile.com
Guest Column
By John Gregg
2/10/15

On a cold January morning in 2001, I stood outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC with my two sons, then ages 8 and 7 to witness the inauguration of President George W. Bush.

As the ceremony began, my older son asked me “Dad why are we here, we’re Democrats?” As the crowd around us looked, then laughed, I told my sons we were there to witness the something uniquely American: the peaceful transfer of power. Americans may disagree with a candidate’s political philosophy, but we always respect the outcome of an election. It’s a bedrock principle of our great democracy.

In November of 2012, I experienced this up close and personal. After a long and hard fought election for governor, Hoosier voters chose Mike Pence over me. And while he certainly wasn’t my first choice, I accepted the decision and respected the will of the majority.

In that same election, Hoosiers made another choice. In very clear fashion, voters said they didn’t like what incumbent Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett was doing to public education in Indiana. They voted him out and voted Glenda Ritz in.

The governor and Republican majority in the Statehouse did not like, nor respect Superintendent Ritz’s hard earned victory. And, while they can’t undo the results of the actual election, through power grab after power grab they are doing essentially the same thing – and that’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous.

If the governor and the Republicans in the General Assembly want to make the superintendent an appointed position or make any other changes to the Department of Education, let’s have a public discussion about them that includes all the interested parties. Ramming these major changes through without public input just because you don’t like the voter’s choice is no way to make sound public policy or instill confidence in state government.

Our country and our system of government works because of that time honored idea of a peaceful transfer of power from one person to the next and, in some cases, one political party to another.  Unlike so many other countries, we don’t have riots, revolutions or violence. We hold faith in the process and the people’s vote.

And when you don’t like the policy or people in a particular office, you don’t attempt a coup or refuse to accept their legitimacy to hold office; you get ready for the next election and work to vote them out.

The tactics on display in the Indiana Statehouse to neuter a duly elected office holder on personal and political grounds are a gross subversion of our most basic democratic principles. And, regardless of your political party or your position on the issues facing Indiana schools, all Hoosiers should also be alarmed.

John Gregg is a Democrat and former speaker of the Indiana House. He’s also a former president of Vincennes University and ran for governor in 2012.

No profit left behind: In the high-stakes world of American education, Pearson makes money even when its results don’t measure up

“Ever since a federal commission published “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 — warning that public education was being eroded by “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people” — American schools have been enveloped in a sense of crisis. Politicians have raced to tout one fix after the next: new tests, new standards, new classroom technology, new partnerships with the private sector.”

POLITICO Pro
By Stephanie Simon
2/10/15

The British publishing giant Pearson had made few inroads in the United States — aside from distributing the TV game show “Family Feud” — when it announced plans in the summer of 2000 to spend $2.5 billion on an American testing company.

It turned out to be an exceptionally savvy move.

The next year, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated millions of new standardized tests for millions of kids in public schools. Pearson was in a prime position to capitalize.

From that perch, the company expanded rapidly, seizing on many subsequent reform trends, from online learning to the Common Core standards adopted in more than 40 states. The company has reaped the benefits: Half its $8 billion in annual global sales comes from its North American education division.

But Pearson’s dominance does not always serve U.S. students or taxpayers well…
Continue reading →

State House votes to strip Ritz of board chair

(Vote results for all House members on HB 1609 are here. –  Admin.)

The Journal Gazette (Ft. Wayne)
By Niki Kelly
2/9/15

INDIANAPOLIS — The elected Superintendent of Public Instruction would no longer automatically chair the State Board of Education under a bill passed 58-40 by Republicans in the Indiana House on Monday.

Twelve Republicans voted against the measure, along with 28 Democrats.

More than a dozen House members intensely debated House Bill 1609 for about an hour. It would allow the 11 members of the board — including the superintendent — to elect their own chairman.

“It has now gone from dysfunctional to detrimental for students,” said GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma, who said he has spent two years serving as almost a full-time mediator between the Republican-dominated board and Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.

“It doesn’t rob anyone of power.”

The vote came after Ritz supporters staged a “Twitter Storm” Sunday by flooding social media with comments in support — all hashtagged #iStandWithRitz.

And a public spat about ISTEP testing length between Ritz and Gov. Mike Pence exploded just hours before the vote — providing another example of problems for GOP members to point to.

But Democrats said Ritz was elected by 1.3 million voters and one of the key parts of her job is to chair the board. Taking away that major role in the middle of her term is unfair, they said.

House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath compared Republicans supporting the measure to a schoolyard bully.

“What is it that you are afraid of? This one lone Democratic voice?” he said. “Show restraint. Respect the voices of the voters.”

Northeast Indiana had two Republicans vote against the measure — Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Goshen, and Rep. Christopher Judy, R-Fort Wayne.

“I was sent here to represent my constituents,” Nisly said. “I’ve heard a good amount from them. This is something in my opinion that should wait until after the next election.”

Judy said he made a commitment to voters in his district that he wouldn’t support a change in governance structure during Ritz’ first term.

“They want to let the election process work.”

The only other area lawmaker to vote no was Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne.

nkelly@jg.net

Rep. Harman and Sen. Head focus on education, small school grant, retired teachers, ISTEP and annexation during Third House

Harmon, Head talk education BY WESLEY DEHNE Staff Writer, The Rochester Sentinel 2/9/15 State Rep. Tim Harmon [sic], R-Bremen, and State Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, presented their legislative updates to a record crowd Saturday. Approximately 70-80 people attended the first of three legislative … Continue reading

President’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2016 Budget: Taking a look

A family budget is one thing. Understanding our federal budget is something else. The President’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2016 Budget was released February 2, 2015.

However, with commitment and perseverance as well as internet resources one can gain in their understanding. Several resources are offered by the following. No doubt there are many others. Feel free to pass them along.

Fact sheet: Middle Class Economics: The President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget (White House Office of Management and Budget) Suggestion: Search “sequestration” in this article. You will find it used ten times.

Top Five Things You Need to Know About Obama’s FY2016 Budget Proposal (National Priorities Project) Tip: A link to the full report is at the bottom of this article.

Report: Analysis of the President’s FY 2016 Budget (The Committee for A Responsible Federal Budget) Snippet: “…the budget does far too little to reduce current debt levels nor slow the growth of entitlement spending over the long-run.”

Comments and questions (i.e., “Leave a reply”) are invited.

“…this has been at heart a high-stakes series of contentious policy debates for the past two years about the future of public education in Indiana.”

(The following is testimony given by Vic Smith, a retired educator, at the Indiana Senate Rules & Legislative Procedure Committee yesterday. The entire hearing was livestreamed and Dr. Smith’s comments begin at 1:32:41.) Vic’s Statehouse Notes #199 – February 3, … Continue reading

Future role of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction dominates Third House session

(There will be a Third House session on Saturday, Feb. 7th, at 8:00A.M. in Rochester at Rochester Meat & Deli’s Manitou Banquet Center at 901 E. 9th St. This opportunity for the public is arranged for by the Fulton County Chamber of Commerce with the Fulton County Farm Bureau serving as a co-sponsor. Speakers include Sen. Randy Head and Reps. Tim Harman and Doug Gutwein. Rep. Friend, with regrets, will not be able to attend. Those attending will have the opportunity to participate in a Q&A. – Russ Phillips)

Locals to state: Stop the drama
Head: Republicans should wait to change superintendent’s role

Pharos~Tribune, Logansport, IN
By Ben Middlekamp
2/1/15

Local lawmakers and their constituents talked upcoming state legislation Saturday, Jan. 31, with much discussion about the future role of the state superintendent of public instruction.

Indiana House Education Committee members met Thursday, Jan. 29, and passed a bill 8-3 that would let the 10 governor-appointed State Board of Education members — excluding the superintendent as its 11th member — elect its own chair. The Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction has been head of the board for more than 100 years, said Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

Ritz, a Democrat, could lose her position as the head of the state school board, which is majority Republican, if the bill passes. She also previously stated that she intends to run for re-election in 2016.

Not everyone agrees with the committee’s action. During a Third House session at the West Side Diner in Logansport Saturday morning, State Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, said the state’s republican- controlled General Assembly should rethink its plans when it comes to removing Ritz from power.

“If we as Republicans want to change the way the superintendent of public instruction is elected or chosen or what her duties are, we ought to do that when a Republican holds the office,” Head said.

Head said the Legislature had “ample opportunities” to change the role of the superintendent when Tony Bennett, a Republican, was in power from 2008 to 2012, but it didn’t.

“It just looks like [Republicans] didn’t win the race, and so now we’re trying to do something about it,” Head said, “and the thing to do about it is to run another candidate, that’s how you fix things if that’s what you want to do.”

Some members in the audience at the public meeting said the State Board of Education members should be elected rather than appointed to provide more accountability for their actions. The state board and Ritz have had several heated arguments during board meetings since she took office in 2013.

Friend said more than half of the $30 billion two-year state budget is spent on education. He said with that focus on education in the state, both sides — Ritz and the State Board of Education — should focus on what’s best schools and kids.

“People in general want their government to work,” he said. “And these very visible, public quarrels and disagreements and squabbling upsets everybody.”

With the bill passed in committee Thursday now headed to the full House, Head said another bill in the Senate (SB 24?) could turn the superintendent’s position into one appointed by the governor starting in 2021. He added that the House bill is more likely to pass than the one proposed in the Senate.

In addition to legislators wanting changes in the state’s control of public education, Head said some state senators are meeting to try to reduce the number of standardized tests for K-12 students.

Michele Starkey, Logansport Community Schools Corp. Superintendent, said out of the 180 days in a school year, elementary students take and prepare for state testing for 76 days, 73 days for middle school students and 50 days in high school — much of which takes place the second semester.

Those senators meeting, Head said, want to create a test that shows how a student in (sic) progressing, rather than just pass or fail as ISTEP is designed, as well as add a reading portion to the test, instead of IREAD-3 being separate.

The next Third House session will be Saturday, March 28, at West Side Diner (in Logansport).

• The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Ben Middelkamp at 574-732-5117 or 

Rep. Jackie Walorski was illusive and not forthright

(The two previous articles, “The decline of local news is threatening citizen engagement” and “Pravda on the Plains: Indiana’s New Propaganda Machine” pointed out that elected officials increasingly are wanting to control the message and the way it is transmitted. This is even more true among incumbents. Any candidate for office including incumbents should be willing to commit to periodic town hall meetings with questions from their constituents, not just from reporters. – Russ Phillips)

At the Wabash, IN debate October 21, 2014 between Joe Bock and Rep. Walorski (Indiana 2nd congressional district) the following was asked of both candidates: “In your campaigns both of you have mentioned ‘Social Security’ and ‘Medicare.’ What needs to occur, if anything, regarding these programs for both current and future recipients of these benefits?” Questions had to be submitted in writing in advance. 

Bock was agreeable to responding, however, Walorski was not. As a result, according to the debate rules, the question was not asked since it was required that both give the “okay” for questions from the audience. 

Unfortunately the debate was cut short about 20 minutes from its intended length due to only six audience questions receiving the “okay.” Following the debate both campaigns were asked how many questions were submitted by the audience. Walorski’s did not respond. Bock’s was reluctant to respond because an exact count was not kept although eventually said, “probably 50 or so.” 

Four years ago Walorski supported privatizing Social Security and referred to it, Medicare and Medicaid as going “bankrupt.” During her most recent campaign she commented, “Social Security is a sacred commitment we’ve made to our seniors” and “I’ll oppose any cuts in Social Security or Medicare.” Where does Walorski stand? 

Social Security and Medicare are not only an interest of current recipients but also of all who currently are making contributions from their paychecks. 

– Russ Phillips