Archives for category: Indiana

Ever since Governor Mike Pence was elected in 2012, he has steadily chipped away at the power of Glenda Ritz, the state commissioner of education who was also elected in 2012 but on the Democratic line. In this solid red state, Ritz got more votes than Pence.

Ritz is an experienced educator, and she has worked to improve public schools and the teaching profession, whereas the Governor and Legislature prefer to gut both of them.

Pence created an alternate education agency to take away Ritz’s authority. Now he has a plan to finally crush her office altogether.

According to the Indiana Economic Digest, citing an editorial in the Tribune-Star:

“Power wins.

“Unless some virtuous political maverick at the top levels of Indiana government appears this winter, the dynasty running Hoosier government will finally complete its two-year-long crusade to wither its last obstacle to full dominance. Gov. Mike Pence announced the check-mate move Thursday as he laid out his goals for the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

“The governor wants legislators to give the Indiana State Board of Education members the power to pick their own chairperson. Under existing Indiana law, the state superintendent of public instruction automatically serves as the board’s chairperson. In other words, the voters decide who chairs the Board of Education. In 2012, they emphatically chose Glenda Ritz, a school-teacher Democrat, as their state superintendent over Republican school-reform star Tony Bennett. The defeat galled Republicans. They never accepted the people’s choice.

“So, with every tool possible, they’ve relentlessly circumvented Ritz, usurping the authority attached to her job. Republican legislators suddenly embraced an idea tossed around for decades — making the superintendent a governor-appointed position, rather than an elected one. With the GOP holding super majorities in the state Senate and House, the only thing preventing it from following through with that tactic was its blatantly obvious political motivation.

“Pence’s proposal injects a new twist. Instead of ousting Ritz, the change drains a huge amount of her remaining power. The other 10 members of the Board of Education — all appointed by Republican governors — would select their chairperson to set the agenda for education policy in Indiana. Ritz would be reduced to just another member, because the others would certainly not choose her.

“Disappointingly, the Republican leaders of the Legislature endorsed Pence’s plan last week. House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long expressed their frustration with the embarrassing dysfunction between the governor’s board and Ritz, calling it a “sideshow” and framing Pence’s proposal as a solution. Ritz is not the problem. The problem is the power party’s refusal to tolerate a rejection of their ballyhooed education reforms by the same voters who simultaneously approved of the Republicans’ efforts in other aspects of governing.”

Tom LoBianco of the Associated Press writes that a months-long investigation of Indiana’s State Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett “found ample evidence to support federal wire fraud charges….” The AP gained access to a copy of the 95-page report.

 

The investigation, which was completed by the inspector general’s office in February, found more than 100 instances in which Bennett or his employees violated federal wire fraud law. That contrasts sharply with an eight-page formal report issued in July that said the office found minimal violations, resulting in a $5,000 fine and an admonishment that Bennett could have avoided fines by rewriting rules to allow some campaign work on state time.

 

Inspector General David Thomas, who is leaving office this month, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday about the discrepancies. But the full report compiled from the six-month investigation, which is closely guarded, clearly shows that Thomas’s investigator believed grounds existed for charges against Bennett.

 

The report also cites the successful prosecution of former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til as a blueprint for prosecution. Van Til, a Democrat, pleaded guilty last December to six counts of wire fraud and admitted to using county employees for campaign work between 2007 and 2012.

 

Bennett’s use of state resources during his failed 2012 re-election campaign came under scrutiny after the AP reported in September 2013 that Bennett had kept multiple campaign databases on Department of Education servers and that his calendar listed more than 100 instances of “campaign calls” during regular work hours. The AP also reported that Bennett had ordered his staff to dissect a speech by his Democratic opponent for inaccuracies ? in apparent violations of Indiana election and ethics laws.

 

Bennett, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the matter was closed and that he would have no comment.

 

Bennett was a former star in national education circles and protege of former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But Bennett resigned as Florida’s schools chief in August 2013 after the AP published emails showing he had overhauled Indiana’s “A-F” school grading system to benefit a charter school run by a prominent Republican donor….

 

From Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2012, the investigation found more than 100 violations of wire fraud laws. They included 56 violations by 14 Bennett employees and 21 days in which Bennett misused his state-issued SUV. Former chief of staff Heather Neal had the most violations, 17.

 

In a section labeled “Scheme to Defraud,” the inspector general laid out its case, saying Bennett “while serving as the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Indiana, devised a scheme or artifice to defraud the State of Indiana of money and property by using State of Indiana paid employees and property, for his own personal gain, as well as for his own political benefit to be re-elected to the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

 

The violations fell into five categories: political campaign fundraising, responding to political opponent’s assertions, calendar political activity meetings, political campaign call appointments and general political campaign activity.

Here is Mercedes Schneider with a brilliant post about the Obama U.S. Department of Education. She writes brief sketches of eight key appointees, each of whom is tied to the privatization movement.

 

When the President wonders why his party was so badly beaten at the polls earlier this month, he might think about the millions of educators who work in public schools and the millions of parents whose children attend good public schools; they are disgusted by Race to the Top, non-stop testing, test-based teacher evaluation, the Department’s preference for charter schools over public schools, and the millions of public dollars directed to TFA and charter schools. Educators were at one time a key part of the base of the Democratic party. As states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee lashed out at teachers, no protest was heard from Arne Duncan. As billions were cut from school budgets in Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Obama administration was silent (Duncan wrote a letter to Governor Corbett of Pennsylvania about the defunding of Philadelphia, but it was a faint protest, not like actually showing up). At present, educators and parents feel abandoned by both parties.

Kevin Teasley, who is CEO of a small charter chain with schools in Indiana and Colorado, with new ones planned for Louisiana, admits that Indiana is overwhelmed by an explosion of charters and vouchers.

 

He writes:

 

After years of being in the minority, reformers suddenly found themselves in the rare position of actually being able to pass legislation during the Daniels administration, and now in the Pence administration.

 

These actions have been done with the best of intentions, but the result caused chaos, and reasonably so. Legislators added new charter authorizers; implemented new test schedules, new graduation measurements and tests, new standards, and new school accountability measures; and, yes, even created a new competitor called voucher schools.

 

All the while, schools and authorizers have had to adjust on the fly.

 

Adding to the challenge, groups wanting to “help” grow the movement work full time to raise scarce philanthropic dollars to create even more competition by recruiting out-of-state “best-in-class” charter models. Two groups approved to create multiple charters—BASIS and Rocketship—have announced they are not coming to Indiana after all.

 

Schools are opening with a fraction of the students they planned to serve. Phalen Leadership Academy planned for 300 but opened with 150. Indianapolis Academy of Excellence planned for 230 but opened with fewer than 80. Carpe Diem planned on 173 and opened with 87. The list goes on and on.

 

Inconsistent accountability measures contribute to the chaos. In the past 10 years, the state has gone from a “probation to exemplary” grading model to an A-F model. Neither is accurate nor helpful.

 

Many charters have too few students (see above) or grade levels to be graded accurately. For example, since 2012, ChristelHouse received an A, an F and a B. KIPP Indy received an A, a C, and this year, a D.

 

And now the Legislature plans to change the system again. The inconsistency, and some argue political, grading of schools has diminished what credibility the process might have had.

 

Hoping to stabilize the charter sector, he calls for time and patience. But these things are clear from his candid account: There are no waiting lists for charters; schools opening and closing; grading schemes written by politicians: This is chaos. It has nothing to do with improving education.

 

Matthew Tully of the Indianapolis Star calls on Republicans to stop their war against state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. Ritz was elected in 2012, handiy beating incumbent Tony Bennett despite his 10-1 spending advantage. Since her election, the Republican Governor Mike Pence and Legislature and state board have done everything possible to undercut Ritz. Pence even created a rival education agency to bypass Ritz and the state education department.

Now the Governor and Legislature want to abolish her office, nullify the election, and turn the position into a gubernatorial appointment.

Matthew Tully says this is ill-advised. He favors an appointed office but thinks it would be wrong to do it in the current climate. She was elected fair and square. She got more votes than Governor Pence.

“Such a move would infuriate educators and others across the state and worsen what has been a toxic period in state education policy. It would be a slap in the face to voters who elected a Democratic superintendent in 2012, one who many GOP bosses, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s leaders, do not like….

“If you think the debate has been ugly of late — with state Board of Education meetings topping anything you’d find in a room full of sugared-up preschoolers — imagine what would happen if already frustrated educators and their supporters statewide see their votes steamrolled by a Republican legislative supermajority.

“Any benefit would be greatly overwhelmed by the ill will the move would inspire, and by the message it would send. In a state where no leaders are calling for the appointment of currently elected (and Republican-held) offices like treasurer and auditor, this would be a straight-up bully move. And it would backfire in a bad way on Republicans by giving the same voters who worked so hard against Bennett in 2012 a reason to get motivated for 2016.

“Yes, the change would likely guarantee fewer of the fights we’ve seen between Gov. Pence’s education appointees and Ritz’s office. And, yes, it would allow the state to have greater alignment at the top when it comes to setting an education vision. But that’s all worthless if the people on the ground — Indiana’s teachers — feel abused, and if voters feel betrayed”

“Anyone who thinks Indiana’s schools can be improved in any real way without the buy-in of its educators is living in a policy bubble and not a classroom.”

A concerned parent activist in Indiana sent this message:

 

 

As election campaign promises are being made, carefully consider any candidate who claims he or she will “reward our best teachers.”
“Rewarding our best teachers” is a purposely deceptive claim. In fact, after replacing traditional pay scales with merit based schemes in 2011, State Republicans immediately reduced funds from the “Teacher Performance Awards”. Originally budgeted at $11 million, the Republican controlled house voted to reduce this fund 82%. Across the state teachers evaluated as effective have been told, “there is no money for ‘rewards’.”
Many teachers today earn less money than they did in 2011, yet the 2014 Indiana Republican Platform claims “Retaining and Attracting Young Talent” is a top priority. The state continues to lose some of its best and brightest teachers to other professions.Talented youth entering college are being told, “You do not want to go into education.”
This year’s election must be about education. Voting for legislators or senators who claim to “reward our best teachers” is to vote for a promise that has already been broken.

 

 

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In 2011, Senate Bill 0001 (SB0001) passed, eliminating teacher contracts and requiring what evolved into the RISE evaluation. Those who supported this idea claimed it would reward effective teachers. In reality, most teachers saw that their pay froze.

 

Once this plan was implemented, districts searched their coffers for funds in which to “reward” effective teachers but found them drained by these same state senators who also slashed educational funding.

 

In essence, SB0001 did just the opposite of what it was intended to do. More quality teachers have left the profession than ever before. Most teachers, even those who have been dubbed highly effective since this evaluation was put in place, find themselves making substantially less money than they did in 2011.

 

Further, school districts in financially struggling areas that needed support the most found themselves losing teachers to more affluent districts that could bolster their funds through referendums. SB 1, whether intentional or not, gives effective and highly effective teachers real cause to hesitate to seek challenging assignments—which, in the end, hurts students who need quality teaching the most.”

 

Finally, many politicians supporting this type of merit pay claim this election year they will focus dollars on the classroom. However, the RISE evaluation has created such red tape for schools that they have had to hire more administrators for this accountability or pull resources out of the classroom to manage.

 

Sadly, six senators who supported this measure and are up for reelection this year stand unopposed. That makes the four races where senators who supported SB0001 even more important. If you vote in one of the four senate districts below, please show your support for public education by voting for the challenger.

 

In State Senate District 47, Sen. Ronald Grooms voted for SB0001.
Vote challenger Chuck Freiberger

 

In State Senate District 45, Sen. James Smith voted for SB0001.
Vote challenger Julie Berry.

 

In State Senate District 41, Sen. Greg Walker voted for SB0001.
Vote challenger AndyTalarzyk.

 

In State Senate District 29, Sen. Michael Delph was absent, but supports policies like SB0001.
Vote Challenger J.D. Ford.

Conservatives are supposed to conserve. however, these days conservatives are intent on smashing their community’s public schools and substituting a market-based system. this is Wall Street, not Main Street.

From a parent activist in Indiana:

“When it comes to public education, Indiana Republicans have been good at one thing – the deception of their own base of voters.

“Republicans lawmakers found themselves torn this year between traditional Hoosier conservatives and corporate sponsors who finance their campaigns. Conservative voters protested Federal overreach in education. Demanding Indiana maintain local decision-making for their schools, Hoosiers asked lawmakers to abandon the Common Core State Standards. However, the corporate ownership of the Common Core is pervasive.

“Republicans needed to quell conservative voter outrage at a Federal initiative taking away local control and costing taxpayers millions in compliance. Yet, they also needed to appease the big businesses that not only funded the Common Core, but funded their election campaigns as well. What were Indiana Republicans to do?

“Deceive us Hoosier Conservatives.

“Remaining loyal to their corporate sponsors, Republicans devised a scheme – rebrand the Common Core State Standards as the new Indiana College and Career Ready Standards. Confident they had cornered the voting booth, they stuck a new sticker over the Common Core and sold us out.

“State Republicans continue to deceive the public with their education platform of “supporting high state-based standards”. In fact, much of the Republican platform on education is written in deceptive terminology.

“The ancient Chinese general, Sun Tzu, said, “All warfare is based on deception.” The Republican Platform on education is nothing more than a declaration of war on our public schools. Unfortunately, Hoosier students are their casualties.”

Whenever a superintendent speaks truth to ower, their voice should be heard. What is more, they deserve to be honored. I am glad here to honor William G . Hochgesang, Superintendent, Northeast Dubois public schools and to add him to our honor roll as a champion of public education. The politicians are hurting children, hurting teachers, and decimating public education. Thank you, Superintendent Hochgesang, for speaking up with courage and clarity for our kids and our democracy.

This letter from Superintendent Hochgesang came from another Indiana superintendent, Dr. Terry Sargeant:

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Over the weekend, I received this letter through the Indiana Small & Rural Schools Association. It was written by Dr. Bill Hochgesang, Superintendent of Northeast Dubois Schools, to his school board the evening he asked them to approve their new teacher contract. In a nutshell, I have not heard the circumstances currently faced by Indiana Public Schools expressed any better. This letter is beginning to go viral in Indiana and I thought you might enjoy reading it. I agree with Bill 100% and I only hope that the political pendulum in Indiana will begin to swing the other direction soon – for the sake of our kids.

Most sincerely,

Terry

Dr. Terry R. Sargent
Superintendent
Jennings County School Corporation
34 W. Main Street
North Vernon, Indiana 47265
(812) 346-4483
tsargent@jcsc.org

“All children are gifted; some just open their packages earlier than others.”

– Michael Carr

​”​ Board,

I am recommending to the board this evening that they ratify the contract as presented. This contract for the second year in a row has a zero increase . Our Classroom Teachers Association does this fully knowing that zero isn’t in reality a zero. It is a negative as our insurance rate increased by 4% in 2013 and increased 8% for the 2015 school year. In the past there was a salary schedule for teachers that had an increment in place for experience . That option was taken away two years ago by our legislature. So this is a true pay cut for the second year in a row. Along with our teachers, all employees of Northeast Dubois have taken this same cut in salary the past two years . It saddens me to have to ask for this and accept this. But that is the reality of what we are currently dealing with.

It does however give me great pleasure to work in this school system where kids truly come first. Our school corporation is a system where people honestly put students’ needs ahead of their own as evidenced by these actions. Our school corporation is innovative as shown by our technology, our atmosphere and, of course, our success . Still we are never satisfied and continuously work to improve. Our school system strives to provide students the opportunity to pursue their passions and excel in many areas! Our school system is one where there is no talk of cutting any programs or enlarging class sizes in order to save money-yet. I worry about this trend continuing. Staff has shown their dedication to students by forgoing pay in order to protect these programs and class sizes.

I only wish I lived in a state where legislators cared as much for students as we do at Northeast Dubois. In 2009, $300,000,000 was taken from the education budget and never returned. Yet we all read in the news that the state has a $2,000,000,000 surplus. One doesn’t have to be a math expert in order to see where 75% of that money came from. Take five years times $300,000,000 and it is crystal clear that $1.5 Billion has come at the cost of the schools in Indiana. Many schools have turned to referendums, just to make ends meet. In fact, after the May election one out of every three schools in Indiana has run a referendum on the voting ballot. Yet, what do we as educators get from our legislators? We get higher standards, more accountability and forced competition, competition for money that is not increasing. We are forced to compete for students, as the money follows the child . We get forced competition where students are ranked, teachers are ranked and schools are ranked. Ranking always produces winners and losers, there is always a top and always a bottom, and in education there cannot be any losers! The education of every child in this state is critical. I am a firm believer that every school in this state is giving their best effort! I wish the legislators would truly see what great things are happening in our schools and begin to support our efforts . I feel they have forgotten the essential role education has played in the success in their own lives and that an education is the most important aspect in leaving a legacy for our children. Public education as we know it is in grave danger. Our legislators need to know just how much we care about our schools and we need their support!

Northeast Dubois is surviving like every other school corporation in this state; we are surviving by a slim margin. We are surviving because of our dedicated, caring and giving people. To all Northeast Dubois employees: Thank you for truly putting kids first! I am humbled to be a part of this school corporation. And hopefully better days are ahead! Let’s keep working together for all our students!

Thank you,

William G . Hochgesang,
Superintendent, Northeast Dubois ​”

Tony Lux, recently retired as superintendent of the Merrillville Community public schools, has written a blistering opinion article in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.

 

He says that it is time for all supporters of public education to unite and vote for legislators who support public education.

 

Despite the fact that the voters of the state of Indiana overwhelmingly ousted State Superintendent Tony Bennett, an advocate of privatization, his policies continue.

 

Glenda Ritz, running against Bennett, received more votes than Governor Mike Pence, yet Pence has used the powers of his office to cut down the power of Ritz and to push ever more profit-making into the schools.

 

The only way to stop the total destruction of public education in the great state of Indiana is to vote for legislators who will support public schools against the entrepreneurs, privatizers, and profiteers.

 

Lux writes:

 

All public schools continue to be harmed financially [by Pence’s policies of privatization]. Tax caps and expanded tax reductions have reduced state income. Along with the continuing obsession for maintaining the golden grail of a $2 billion state surplus, these factors have resulted in declarations by the governor that there just isn’t any state money to appropriately increase school funding. Nevertheless, diversion of education tax dollars toward the proliferation of unproven charter schools and private school vouchers have reduced funding for all public schools.

The governor makes grand claims that Indiana lives within its means (despite tax income that is diminishing due to an array of continuing and expanding tax deductions), and that Indiana maintains strong reserves (through “reversions” that take money back from state programs that serve the public), while still making “investments in education.” These claims ring incredibly hollow and are transparently hypocritical to anyone close to public education (and other public services as well).

Supposedly, business tax breaks will bring new jobs. But those new jobs require better-skilled graduates. Only thriving public schools in our cities, towns, suburbs and farm communities will achieve those results. Charter schools have little evidence of success, and tax dollars for vouchers are being expanded to pay for already-successful students rather than to fund programs for underachieving students.

The state’s return on investment in these strategies is practically negligible in increasing the percentage of students at grade level and in increasing the college and career skills of our high school graduates.

 

Mel Hawkins of Indiana says the election of 2014 may be the most important ever for the future of public education in Indiana. Now is the time to step up and support those who will fund our public schools and oust those vandals who would destroy them and turn our children into profit centers.

Tony Bennett, once the State Commissioner of Education in Indiana, then defeated by Glenda Ritz in 2012, then appointed as State Commissioner of Florida, then resigned after news broke that the state grades were manipulated to favor a charter school owned by one of Bennett’s major campaign contributors. After the scores were adjusted, the charter’s grade miraculously rose from a C to an A.

 

Bennett was leader of Jeb Bush’s “Chiefs for Change” and an outspoken advocate for the Common Core.

 

Now there is more scandal in the wake of Bennett’s Indiana tenure in office. One of his top aides has been questioned about his dealings with Cisco, for whom he worked before and after he worked for Tony Bennett.

 

AP reporter Tom LoBianco, who broke the original story about Tony Bennett and grade-rigging, wrote:

 

“A former top Indiana education official’s role in the sale of $1.7 million worth of videoconferencing equipment to the state by Cisco Systems Inc., where he worked before and after holding that state position, has added to calls to strengthen Indiana’s ethics laws amid a recent spate of boundary-pushing incidents.

 

“Todd Huston left his Department of Education job as chief of staff to former Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett in 2010 for a position with Cisco, where he had previously worked. He was involved in the 2012 sale of a new TelePresence videoconferencing system to the DOE that officials later determined was a waste of taxpayer money.

 

“Although Huston says he was careful to keep his work for the state and for Cisco separate over the years, good-governance watchdogs say his role in the sale violated the spirit of Indiana’s ethics rules designed to stop state employees from cashing in on their public experience in the private sector.”

 

More on Todd Huston: He now works for the College Board, whose CEO is David Coleman, architect of the Common Core standards:

https://www.collegeboard.org/about/leadership/todd-huston
Todd Huston
Senior Vice President, State and District Partners
Todd plays an integral role in the College Board’s mission to meet the needs of K–12 and higher education clients, as well as the needs of state governments. He directs key aspects of College Board strategy, as influenced and determined by external market trends, policy and standards.

Todd’s extensive experience in education includes serving as a local school board member, a member of the Indiana State Board of Education and as the chief of staff for the Indiana Department of Education. Most recently, Todd was the strategic business development manager at Cisco Systems, where he helped higher education and K–12 customers transform their operations and student experience with new technologies.

Todd earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Indiana University and is the father of two.

P.S. Todd Huston is an elected member of the Indiana House of Representatives.

Question: How many jobs can one man hold?

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