Tony Bennett vs. Glenda Ritz
Tony Bennett, the well-funded incumbent, is facing Glenda Ritz, a national board certified teacher in Washington Township. On the surface, it looks like a mismatch. Tony Bennett has built a national reputation and has had fundraising events in his honor from New York to California. The Star reported that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $40,000 to the Bennett campaign. I have heard reports that Alice Walton of the Walmart fortune has donated $200,000. The name of Glenda Ritz is still not well known, even by those who have opposed Tony Bennett’s positions. It looks like a “David vs. Goliath” situation.
I support Glenda Ritz for State Superintendent because I believe Tony Bennett has led us in profoundly wrong directions. He talks often about accountability, and this election is the accountability program of our democracy. I believe that he should be held accountable and defeated in his bid for reelection. I’ll start with four key reasons:
1) Bennett led the fight to use state tax dollars for religious school tuition. In the first year alone, $16 million dollars were diverted from supporting public school students in order to pay tuition for private and parochial school students. According to a recent report in the Star, we now have 301 private schools receiving tax supported vouchers, of which 290 are Christian schools, 3 are Muslim schools, 2 are Jewish schools and 6 --only 6! -- are independent, non-religious private schools. For the first time since the Indiana Constitution was approved in 1851, Indiana taxpayers are providing state funding for sectarian, religious education.
This directly contradicts the vision of Caleb Mills, leader of Indiana’s common school movement in the 1840’s that successfully put a public education system in the 1851 Constitution. He was a Presbyterian minister, but he strongly believed that if public money was going to pay for schools, they should be non-sectarian and non-partisan. He believed that young citizens should not be raised in schools that take partisan positions. Private schools taking vouchers now have every right to take partisan political positions in line with their religion, while educating students with public tax money. Political and theological positions of Christians, Muslims and Jews will be inculcated at taxpayer expense. The pro and con presentation of issues that I grew up with in non-partisan public schools will be the civic framework for fewer and fewer people. This will inevitably lead to a more partisan nation, and partisanship is already clearly challenging our democracy.
Tony Bennett found 56 House members and 28 Senators to vote for the voucher bill. Do Hoosier voters really agree that religious school tuition should be funded with tax money? This is the election that will tell us whether voters agree with the biggest change in church/state separation in 160 years, since the 1851 Constitution. This election is the referendum on Tony Bennett’s efforts to give public money to private and parochial schools.
Glenda Ritz is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the voucher law, which currently awaits review by the Indiana Supreme Court. I support Glenda Ritz.
2) Bennett brought us an A-F grading system that degrades Indiana’s public schools. Ignoring the complaints from all 35 speakers at the only public hearing, he pushed through a system in February of 2012 that, by figures put out by his own department, gives D’s and F’s to 22% of Hoosier schools, while Florida, the state he used as a role model for school letter grades, gives D’s and F’s to 6%. Indiana schools are not over 3 times worse than Florida schools!! In fact, Indiana consistently outscores Florida on the National Assessment. The data on the attached file shows clearly that Indiana leads Florida on 4th and 8th grade Math and on 8th grade reading by as much as 9% passing on the same test. Check out the attached table.
Unfairly low school grades damage local economic development efforts to attract new jobs. Mayors have expressed great concern about the inappropriately low grades produced by Tony Bennett’s A-F model, saying it will hurt their recruitment of new businesses to their community. In the past, when the public school community and the Indiana Chamber agreed that the system needed to be revised, it would be revised. Not so under Dr. Bennett. No stakeholders spoke in favor of the plan in the January hearing. Nevertheless, Dr. Bennett pushed it through. The only correction to this is to vote no to Tony Bennett in November.
This Thursday, August 30th, preliminary letter grades under the new system are on the agenda of the State Board of Education. Great questions still exist in the minds of school leaders about how the growth model data impact the grades. Leaders are frustrated that they can’t calculate their own grade without statewide data they don’t have regarding growth. The bonuses and the penalties for growth can only be calculated based on each individual’s growth compared to the total state performance of peers. This, in my view, violatesIC 20-31-8-2(b): (b) The department shall assess improvement in the following manner: (1) Compare each school and each school corporation with its own prior performance and not to the performance of other schools or school corporations. The labeling of high and low growth students does indeed use comparisons involving the students of other schools and school corporations.
Glenda Ritz has called for a revised school letter grade system. I support Glenda Ritz.
3) Bennett has narrowed the curriculum to Math and English/Language Arts. His focus on high stakes testing has narrowed the curriculum to the two subjects schools must do well in to get a high grade and even to survive as a school under the threat of state closure or takeover. This is especially true in elementary and middle schools. The tremendous impact of this pressure on schools is not well understood by the public. It has undermined other crucial subjects and electives needed for well rounded citizens and for civic education needed to continue our democracy. These shortchanged subjects include science, foreign language, economics, history, geography, vocational courses and health. Tony Bennett has absolutely ignored the civic mission of public schools to teach our next generation about citizenship under our Constitution. With Indiana now in the top ten states for obesity problems, he attempted unsuccessfully to remove a state law requiring a state health curriculum and a health consultant.
Glenda Ritz has called for the restoration of common sense in pulling back from the overemphasis on high stakes testing and for restoration of the balance in our curriculum. I support Glenda Ritz.
4) Contrary to the rule of law, if Bennett disagreed with something on the law books, he didn’t enforce it. Here are three examples:
1. For nearly 20 years, the Indiana Principal’s Leadership Academy (IPLA) had provided professional development to principals since it was begun under State Superintendent Dean Evans. It had an extremely loyal following of alumni, but Tony Bennett didn’t like it and worked to delete funding for IPLA in his first budget as he entered office in 2009. IC 20-20-2-4 is very clear: “The state superintendent shall: (1) appoint a full-time director to administer the academy; (2) employ staff necessary to implement this chapter; (3) appoint members of the advisory board”. Instead of appointing staff and advisory board members to bring policies more to his liking, he simply ignored this statute and gave money for professional development to an Evansville program to train principals at Brown University, a program that quickly ran out of money. Then he attempted in the 2012 session to take the IPLA law off the books, but the legislature refused to do that. The law still stands, but Tony Bennett is not enforcing the law. Can he enforce only the laws he likes?
2. While Dr. Reed was State Superintendent In 2008, the General Assembly created the Indiana Legislative Youth Advisory Council in HEA 1162 to be administered by the Indiana Department of Education. When Dr. Bennett came into office in 2009, he let it be known that he would not continue the Youth Advisory Council. Apparently the fact that it was a law had no impact on Dr. Bennett. Representative Bell from Fort Wayne, who had sponsored the original bill, worked diligently in the 2010 session to keep the ILYAC alive by amending the law to say that the Indiana Bar Foundation Civic Education Center would administer the program, instead of IDOE. Again, here was a law that Tony Bennett didn’t want to carry out, so he didn’t. Others who saw the importance of civic education for young people had to step in to keep the program going. Why didn’t he carry out the law until it was changed? Isn’t that the way the rule of law works?
3. Bennett applied a double standard of leniency to private Scholarship Granting Organizations that give out private school tax credit scholarships, which since a 2009 law have been subsidized 50% by your tax dollars. He has held public schools strictly accountable to the point of state takeover, but he let Scholarship Granting Organizations ignore the law without penalty. When the 2012 General Assembly considered Senate Bill 296 to expand tax credit scholarships for private schools, the facts came out: As of March 2012, of the four SGO’s, only two had ever submitted audits required by the 2009 law, and only one had documented the legally required 90% distribution for student scholarships on the required public report.
When citizens make great efforts to pass a law through the General Assembly, they believe that they have institutionalized the program for future generations or at least until the General Assembly changes the law. They do not think that the law will be ignored because the new office holder doesn’t like it. That practice is the opposite of the rule of law under our Constitution.
Glenda Ritz will not pick and choose which laws she will enforce. She will follow the law. I support Glenda Ritz.
I urge you to support Glenda Ritz in any way you can by talking with family members, neighbors and friends. Her name recognition is still low. When the TV commercials start flying, she will be vastly outspent. She needs your involvement and your support at the grassroots level.
by Vic Smith
Vic Smith has worked many years as a reporter focused on events at the statehouse. He is an ardent supporter of public education and president of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, a new, bi-partisan non-profit organization. Its mission is to focus public tax dollars on the K-12 education of public school students by opposing legislation in the Indiana General Assembly that would:
fund private school vouchers
expand private school tax credits
privatize charter schools by allowing private colleges and agencies to be authorizers
put for-profit managers in place to take a profit from operating public schools
privatize public schools through any other means
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org