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 breakfasts at Manitou Banquet Center, sponsored by the Fulton County Chamber of Commerce and Fulton County Farm Bureau.

Harmon and Head discussed Senate and House bills concerning the state’s budget, education, ethics and public safety.

Harmon opened by discussing education legislation, specifically his support for House Bill 1480, which provides a small school grant in state fiscal years 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 to school corporations, other than charter schools, that have a current average daily membership greater than 450 and less than 1,100. The bill would appropriate with enough money to fund the grants from the state general fund.

“The bill is designed to make sure rural and suburban schools get a fair share of the pie,” Harmon said. “Small schools need a head start.”

He also said he supports House Bill 1005 for a teacher tax credit. If passed, the bill would provide a $200 tax credit to reimburse teachers for classroom supplies. He stressed the importance of the bill, saying “It will help reduce financial burdens faced by Indiana teachers.”

Another bill Harmon said he would support concerns cost of living adjustments for retired teachers. House Bill 1481 grants cost of living adjustments in 2015 and 2016: for certain members of the public employees’ retirement fund; Indiana state teachers’ retirement fund; state police pre-1987 benefit system; and state police 1987 benefit system.

Harmon said he’d like to increase education funding. “We need to extend funding without dipping into other pots, making sure revenues exceed expenses,” he said, while noting 51 percent of the state’s budget goes toward K-12 education. He said it’s important to keep a surplus when examining the budget.

Harmon said he’ll oppose House Bill 1609, which calls for members of the state board of education to elect an annual chairperson from the members of the state board, instead of being led by the state superintendent of public instruction. The bill has passed the Republican-controlled House Education Committee and heads to the full House for its third reading today.

“Whether the bill is passed or not, school will still go on, and my daughter will still get a good education at Bremen,” Harmon said.

Other house bills Harmon said he’d support are House Bill 1001, a budget bill aimed at improving funds for education and other strategic investments, while not raising taxes. Also, House Bill 1002, an ethics reform bill. It increases transparency by improving reporting requirements and disclosures of conflicts of interest.

Head followed Harmon, noting the record turnout by area residents. “When the Fulton County Chamber of Commerce and Fulton County Farm Bureau get together, anything is possible,” he said.

Education is one of Head’s main talking points. He said the state’s approach to ISTEP, Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress, contains too much testing and preparation, and it’s impossible to tell students’ strengths and weaknesses. He said he supports Senate Bill 566, which would stop efforts to create a new ISTEP and instead move Indiana educators into using a national test beginning in the 2016-2017 school year.

The national test would combine multiple tests into one, which Head said would require less time testing and preparing. He said educators and students spend 73 days a year on average preparing for and taking the ISTEP.

Head said annexation of land should be voluntary. Senate Bill 330, which he supports, says when a municipality initiates an annexation, the annexation may not proceed until the municipality files a petition with the court containing the signatures of at least 51 percent of the owners of land or the owners of more than 60 percent in assessed valuation of land.

“The bill is designed to make annexation harder,” Head said. The bill concerns annexation within one mile of city limits and states that an economic development project must occur within three years. Other issues on Head’s 2015 radar include postponing, until legislators find a solution, a property assessment change that could increase farm taxes. Also: increasing penalties for violent crimes, while empowering local law enforcement to handle non-violent offenders through community corrections; expanding the definition of sexual conduct, for purposes of the law concerning child exploitation and child pornography; and allowing law enforcement agencies to seize property used to commit, facilitate or escape from offenses concerning human trafficking or promoting prostitution.

The Fulton County Chamber of Commerce and Fulton County Farm Bureau host two additional legislative breakfasts. Future third house sessions are at 8 a.m. March 14 at Fulton Community Center, 204 E. Dunn St., and 8 a.m. April 18 at Akron Community Center, 815 E. Rural St.

State Board member: Doubling ISTEP testing time bad for students

Indystar.com
2/6/15
By Sarah O’Brien

As a parent of school-aged children, a teacher, and a member of the State Board of Education, I was shocked, as were many other Hoosier parents, when the Indiana Department of Education announced over the past two weeks a doubling of the amount of time our students will be taking ISTEP tests this spring.

Hoosier parents and education leaders need testing in order to determine how our children are learning and to acknowledge great teaching. However, the amount of testing the Department of Education is imposing this year is simply too much for Hoosier students and takes too much time away from other productive educational activities in the classroom.

During the Feb. 4 State Board of Education meeting (video), a pediatrician testified that making children take 11 to 12 hours of tests was nothing short of child abuse. Last year, students in grades 3 through 8 took the ISTEP test for approximately five hours. This year’s test will require between 11 and 12.5 hours. It is simply unconscionable to make our children sit through six to seven additional hours of tests. Research shows that testing for that length of time produces a negative impact on student performance. Additionally, schools are forced to drain resources from every corner of their buildings to accommodate testing schedules. This affects all of our students, not only those testing this year.

During the board meeting, my colleagues and I asked the Department of Education to explain to us and parents across the state why they doubled test times this year. Last fall, when the board asked the Department of Education to describe how much ISTEP would be expanded, the department responded that “a few questions” would be added. Clearly a doubling in testing time is the result of adding more than a few questions.

The board did request that Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz call the test provider, CTB/McGraw-Hill, to ask if they can shorten the test. As of this writing, the superintendent has not responded. Board members continue to ask the superintendent, and the Department of Education, to do anything in their power to release our students from the unnecessary stress of such a strenuous test that is in no way developmentally appropriate as written.

At this late hour, there is nothing State Board members can do to shorten the length of the test. We did, however, vote to expand the windows when students could take the test. We are hopeful that this will lower stress and improve performance by reducing the time students need to take tests each day. The Board has also asked the Department of Education to report earlier in the school-year the amount of time testing will take in future years, which the Department of Education agreed to do.

As a member of the State Board of Education, teacher and proud parent, I wish I had better news to share with other Hoosier parents and teachers regarding this year’s ISTEP test. It appears this year that students and their classrooms will be disrupted for twice the amount of time for testing than in previous years. While it won’t change testing this year, rest assured the State Board of Education will strongly encourage the Department of Education to return test time to near its previous levels next year. Our kids deserve better.

(O’Brien is a first and second grade teacher at River Birch Elementary School in Avon. She has served as a member of the State Board of Education since 2009.)

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, 2015
  
Dear Friends,

Senate Bill 1
removing the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board of Education passed the Senate Rules Committee by a party line vote of 7-4 about 6:45pm last evening (Feb. 2) after a long hearing which began about 4:15.
 
I gave the following testimony against removing the State Superintendent as chair:
 
“Make no mistake.  These bills about who shall chair the State Board are skirmishes in a greater war about whether a strong public education system built over the past 100 years will survive in Indiana. These bills impact policy.  They advance the policies of the current State Board backed by the Governor and they deny the policies of the current State Superintendent.  While some have dismissed the debates as bickering and the result of personalities, 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.  Here are five examples:
 
Debate #1: A strong public education system is built on well trained teachers.  Should the training standards for teachers be lowered to give licenses for the first time to individuals with no teacher training and let them learn on the job?  The State Board said yes.  The State Superintendent of Public Instruction said no.  The State Board prevailed.
 
Debate #2: A strong public education system is built on respected, well trained principals.  Should the teacher evaluations completed by school principals for the past two years be derided and ignored because some members of the State Board believe there can’t possibly be as many effective and highly effective teachers as the principals have said?  Such attitudes explain why teachers are retiring early and advising young people to pick another profession.  Should school principals be downgraded in the teacher evaluation process because their evaluations are wrong? Several members of the State Board have said yes, and they are making plans to change the teacher evaluation system to reduce the role of principals.  The State Superintendent of Public Instruction has said no.
 
Debate #3: A strong public education system is built on well trained superintendents.  Should licensing standards for superintendents be lowered to give temporary superintendents with no superintendent license a path to a permanent license with no further training?  The State Board, which for the first time in our history has no superintendents or former superintendents appointed to it, said yes.  The State Superintendent of Public Instruction said no.  The State Board prevailed.
 
Debate #4: A strong public education system is built on a respected and valid system of grading schools.  Should the directions of the 2013 General Assembly (in HEA 1427) to void the current A-F system by November 15, 2013 be delayed and ignored?  Should use of the flawed current A-F system which measures student growth based on peer comparisons be continued contrary to the law that you passed?  The State Board said yes.  The State Superintendent of Public Instruction said no. The State Board prevailed.  We are still using and will even use again next fall the system that you voted in 2013 to void.
 
Debate #5: A strong public education system is built on transparency and public input.  Should the State Board use a private email meeting of dubious legality to take action to request that legislative leaders direct LSA to calculate school letter grades without the knowledge of the State Superintendent?  The State Board said yes.  The State Superintendent of Public Instruction said no.  The State Board’s action prompted a legal battle over the Open Door procedures.
 
In all of these policy debates, and these five examples are but a sampling, the State Superintendent was representing the position of the voters who elected her to maintain our strong system of public education in Indiana.   Under current law, the voters choose the chair of the State Board.  These bills would remove that power from the voters and give it to appointees of the Governor.  This clearly downgrades the power of the voters and tips the balance in these policy debates in favor of the State Board.  Directly reducing the power of the voters before the next election diminishes our democracy.

Are these bills really the way democracy is supposed to work?  The voters had a chance to ratify the State Board policies listed above in 2012 because they were the policies of State Superintendent Bennett, but they didn’t ratify them.  They chose instead to elect State Superintendent Ritz, decisively.  She received 1.3 million voters, more than Governor Pence received.  The voters had spoken about education.
 
When it comes to education, the race for State Superintendent is the only office where the voters can focus solely on education policy.  As the Governor and members of the General Assembly run for office, there are hundreds of issues that voters might focus on as they make their decision, but the State Superintendent electoral race is all about education, and the voters were extremely clear that they did not agree with State Superintendent Bennett.
 
While it was obvious that after the 2012 election that State Superintendent Ritz would be a lone voice in the Statehouse, at least it was clear to voters who elected her that she would have the power of the chair to slow down and try to correct several questionable policy proposals which Dr. Bennett had proposed.  There were big issues on the table: how to grade our schools, how to evaluate our teachers and whether to lower our licensing standards for teachers and administrators as proposed.  The voters had their say, at least for the next four years.
 
But according these bills, the voters were wrong.  The voters do not, according to these bills, have the power to pick leaders who will serve until the next election when the voters can speak again.  The Governor and his activist board members did not like the priorities and policies of the new State Superintendent.  They have systematically worked for two years to diminish her power in order to win the philosophical battles of education policy.  In my observation, this effort began in July, 2013 in the first meeting of the newly appointed board when Superintendent Ritz was presenting her vision for improving reading.  She is after all a literacy specialist and she did after all win the election, but her presentation was interrupted and cut off by one board member and tabled before she could even finish the presentation. There has been a long-term effort to reduce her influence and these bills are part of that effort.
 
It is not fair to the voters in our democracy to change the powers of an office during the term of the office.  This clearly undercuts the powers of “We the People”.  This bill tries to raise the powers of appointed State Board members above the powers of the voters.  This is just plain wrong, and if enacted it would absolutely and clearly diminish our democracy.
 
At the very least, if the General Assembly decides to favor the Governor’s position over the State Superintendent’s position in the monumental education policy debate that Indiana is now engaged in, the powers of the State Superintendent should be changed to be effective after the next election, and not during the term awarded to the State Superintendent by the voters.
 
Diminishing the powers of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is an obvious symbol of diminishing Indiana’s priority on public education. I urge you to maintain the powers of the office and to maintain a high priority on public education in Indiana.
 
We pride ourselves on being a democracy with powers of government derived from the voters.  I urge you to withdraw these bills in order to maintain that principle and to respect the voters.”
 
Details of the Hearing

Senator Holdman was called on to discuss three bills he is sponsoring changing State Board governance, Senate Bill 1, Senate Bill 452 and Senate Bill 453.  His amendment to Senate Bill 1, accepted by consensus, in addition to changing the chair, would change the composition of the State Board to nine members, four appointed by the Governor, two by the House Speaker and two by the Senate President Pro Tem.

Chairman Long announced that supporters and opponents would each be given one hour to speak.

Speaking for the bill, in order, were Robert Summers from the Office of the Governor in Ohio; Caitlin Gamble from Hoosiers for Quality Education; Carol Owslander from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce; and Senator Kenley.

Speaking against the bill, in order, were John Barnes representing the State Superintendent and the IDOE; Sally Sloan from AFT-Indiana; Lynn Slivka speaking as a retired teacher and citizen; myself; Teresa Meredith from the Indiana State Teachers Association; Joel Hand from the Indiana Coalition for Public Education; and Kristina Frey speaking as a citizen and parent in Washington Township.

In closing, Senator Holdman said it “makes no difference who is chair” and asserted the only a “tiny majority” of voters knew that the State Superintendent would chair the State Board.  Senator Tallian, before the vote, said it was a “travesty” to suggest voters didn’t know the State Superintendent would chair the State Board and called for elections and greater accountability to the voters if the governance of the State Board is to be changed.  Senator Lanane said this bill would not reach the core of the problem because the friction is about policies and this bill shows “we don’t care about voters.”

Voting for the bill were Republican Senators Long, Hershman, Holdman, Kruse, Eckerty, Steele and Merritt.

Voting against the bill were Democrat Senators Lanane, Breaux, Arnold and Tallian.

Contact Your Legislators

Senate Bill 1 now goes to the floor of the Senate.  Contact your Senator or other Senators with your thoughts this crucial bill.

Senate Bill 1 is an historic change.  The State Superintendent has chaired the State Board since 1913 and State Board governance has not been changed since 1984.

Republican Senator Head in a Third House meeting in Logansport last weekend asserted that changing the powers of the State Superintendent should be done only when a Republican holds the office, to avoid the charges of party partisanship.  It is clear that he will need lots of grassroots support for that position if it is going to gain favor against the Governor’s position. 

Remember you can go to the website of the Indiana General Assembly and click on any Senator.  Then click on “Send an email.”

Update on House Bill 1009

Representative Behning presented House Bill 1009 this morning in the House Education Committee.  After a long hearing, he said he would hold the bill to discuss amendments with Representative Austin and bring it back for amendments and voting on Thursday, Feb. 5, at 8:30am.

Thanks for your efforts in support of public education!

Best wishes,
Vic Smith      vic790@aol.com
 
 
 
“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries.  The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis.  Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma! 
 
ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools.  We need your membership to help support the ICPE lobbying efforts.  Joel Hand will again be our ICPE lobbyist in the Statehouse.  Many have renewed their memberships already, and we thank you!  If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to renew now.
We must raise additional funds for the 2015 session, which began on January 6th.  We need additional members and additional donations.  We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education!  Please pass the word!
 
Go to www.icpe2011.com for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!
 
 
Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools.  Thanks for asking!  Here is a brief bio:
I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969.  I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor.   I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009.  I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.  In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.
 

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

The decline of local news is threatening citizen engagement

The Washington Post
By Danny Hayes
1/23/15

When the White House announced last week that President Obama would grant interviews to three YouTube stars after Tuesday’s State of the Union address, it not only marked the first time “fartbag” made its way into media coverage of the august annual speech. It also served as yet another reminder of how the evolving media environment is reshaping Washington politics.

As important as these changes might be, it’s easy to forget that perhaps an even more politically consequential shift in the media landscape is happening at the local level. New research by me and American University political science professor Jennifer Lawless suggests that the impoverishment of local political news in recent years is driving down citizen engagement.

Lawless and I aren’t the first to explore a link between the changing local news environment and political engagement. Previous work has shown that the recent deaths of newspapers in big cities — such as Cincinnati, Denver and Seattle — have coincided with lower levels of civic participation. With fewer outlets providing public affairs information, voters appear less politically active.

But our analysis, based on a large-scale study of local coverage and citizen behavior in every congressional district across the country, demonstrates that the fading of two-newspaper towns is not the only problem. When the content of local news deteriorates — as has happened nationwide in an era of newsroom austerity — so do citizen knowledge and participation.

The core of our study is an analysis of local newspaper coverage during the 2010 midterm elections. We identified the largest-circulating newspaper within each of the nation’s 435 congressional districts and conducted an in-depth content analysis of U.S. House campaign coverage in the month leading up to the election (Oct. 2 through Nov. 2, 2010). We focused our attention on newspaper coverage because this is virtually the only venue where House races receive meaningful attention.

Based on our analysis of more than 6,000 news stories, we first demonstrate that the volume and substance of coverage is affected by the competitiveness of a House race and the size of a newspaper covering it. Competitive races get more coverage, and more issue-focused coverage, than landslide contests. For instance, toss-up races received almost one story per day on average, nearly three times as many as safe districts. And large newspapers are less likely than smaller outlets to devote attention to any single congressional election in their market.

Duh, you say. Though certainly unsurprising, these results help trace the pathway by which the political and economic environment can shape the content of information citizens have at their disposal. With a dwindling number of competitive House contests, there are shrinking incentives for news organizations to offer more than perfunctory coverage. And as smaller papers have folded, making larger newspapers the lone sources of local news in many communities, local political coverage is getting harder to find.

When we merge our newspaper data with survey data from the 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we find that voters in districts with less news coverage know less about the candidates running for the House. For instance, as the volume of news coverage declines, citizens are less able to identify candidates as liberals or conservatives. They are also less likely to say that they will cast a ballot in the House contest.

To be sure, the effects are not enormous. But even accounting for campaign spending, individuals’ education levels and partisanship, and other key variables, local news contributes to citizens’ ability — or lack thereof — to form judgments about politicians. For example, a decline of two standard deviations in the number of news stories in a district (about 26) reduces by about two points the likelihood of a respondent being able to identify a candidate’s ideology.

We find that this is true not only for the least politically engaged voters but also those who are typically more attentive to politics. Where the news environment is impoverished, engagement is diminished for all citizens.

That differs from the pattern that political scientist Markus Prior documents at the national level, where the vast expansion of news and entertainment options has widened the gap in political involvement between the most and least politically interested citizens. Prior shows that just as cable TV and the Internet allow political junkies to become ever more informed, they also allow citizens who don’t care about politics to turn instead to SportsCenter, the newest “Real Housewives” franchise or cat videos. (Don’t get me wrong: This is undeniably awesome.) As a consequence, the information-rich get richer, and the information-poor get poorer.

Why do we find more uniform effects? We suspect it is because mainstream news outlets still constitute the dominant source of information for local politics. Few hyperlocal news sites and other online outlets have gained traction and become reliable sources for political news. This leaves even politically engaged citizens with few alternatives for information about House candidates when news coverage in their local paper falls away.

This development has potentially profound implications. To the extent that a knowledgeable and participatory citizenry is a marker of a healthy political system, the demise of local news should raise concerns about the operation of electoral democracy. An anemic news environment makes it more difficult for citizens to hold their local representatives accountable.

And that may be far more consequential than whether the president gives an interview to the “Queen of YouTube.”

(Danny Hayes is associate professor of political science at George Washington University. His research focuses on political communication and political behavior. He is the co-author of Influence from Abroad, a book about Americans’ views toward U.S. foreign policy.)