Indiana Public Education: Two Visions Keep Colliding

MUNCIE, Indiana – It’s been a super busy week for Indiana Public Education, and it’s only Wednesday. As long as we have two different visions for public education in this state, we’ll continue seeing power struggles. Hoosiers sent mixed messages two years ago, so the dysfunction of the 2012 election will continue playing out in Indianapolis.

First off, the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) and Doug Martin have sounded off alarms about today’s State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting. The SBOE is bringing forth several resolutions which the ISTA and Glenda Ritz feel will “strip away power” from the superintendent.

Since Glenda won her election over Tony Bennett, she’s been in a constant tug of war with the State Board of Education which is appointed by the governor (Daniels and Pence), but she gets to chair as superintendent. They’ve been tolerating each other over the past year, but things are getting testy again. We contacted board member Dr. Brad Oliver of the 6th Congressional District, he wrote:

Indiana statute (IC 20-19-2) is very clear that the State Board of Education is responsible for establishing education policy in Indiana while related statutes (IC 20-19-1 and IC 20-19-3) explain the duties of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Indiana Department of Education in implementing education policy. While Indiana statute provides that the State Superintendent will serve as Chair of the State Board, there are no powers given to the State Superintendent as the Chair.

The resolutions can be read here. From our review, the SBOE is “clarifying” what the board chair’s role is in meetings – she’s to facilitate, not rule over the meeting. We will be following Twitter land and will share what we learn as the day progresses. We firmly believe these resolutions are just laying the groundwork for more to come as the board continues to take marching orders from a governor who has sold the state to the Koch brothers and their corporatized ALEC education agenda.

Speaking of Tony Bennett, he’s in town this week to face the Ethics Commission on Thursday for using state employees to run his reelection campaign against Glenda Ritz. He claims he’s “innocent” and “didn’t do anything wrong”, but Muncie Voice was able to get a copy of two political donor lists off the state’s computers because some staffer in Tony’s office downloaded them from republican party headquarters. No, he’s not innocent – he’s guilty as charged, but the corrupted system in Indianapolis is working overtime to get him off, or present a lesser offense that doesn’t prevent him from gainful employment.

Trust us, Tony’s lack of moral compass fits right in with the conservative hacks from Koch industries and/or the Bush family who have run this state for a decade. There is nothing ethical about any of them, so don’t worry about Tony, he’ll get a nice six figure job for pushing an ALEC backed education agenda in Indiana.

According to AP Reporter, Tom LoBianco, who broke the scandal causing Bennett to resign as Florida’s education chief (recommended by Jeb Bush), “In both the ethics case and the grade-change scandal, Bennett has said he did nothing wrong. Bennett hired two of the state’s most prominent defense attorneys, Larry Mackey and Jason Barclay, to represent him in the ethics case.”

LoBianco further writes, “Barclay was the lawyer who wrote the ethics law that Bennett violated.” Even though Tony is “innocent”, it sounds like he’s taking out insurance to help him get out of the mess he created.

Lastly, although Glenda and her supporters are upset about the resolutions coming forth in today’s meeting, we believe it has more to do with Governor Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI) and the Indiana Works Council which unveiled their strategic plan last month titled, “Align, Engage, Advance: A Strategic Plan to Transform Indiana’s Workforce“.

We get frequent public relations postings from Pence’s Indiana Economic Development Corporation which is a private state economic group handing out free taxpayer-funded candy to firms moving their businesses to Indiana. We see an influx from Illinois who want to lower their overhead, so they move to NW Indiana. The press releases have the same proclamation:

The Hoosier State remains an attractive place to run a business because it provides the ideal climate for growth, said Victor Smith, Indiana Secretary of Commerce. Indiana has worked hard to build a business environment that lets companies succeed on their own terms, free from restrictive regulations or red tape. With our low taxes, skilled workforce and robust transportation networks, Indiana stands out as a state that works. (Emphasis added)

It sounds good, but it’s propaganda. Why would we dig on Indiana this way? We’re not.

We’re pulling a quote from a recent survey from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. In an article by Chelsea Schneider earlier this week, she wrote:

One of the hardest skills to find in a job applicant is someone with work ethic, according to a survey by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce released last week.

The chamber surveyed more than 500 employers and nearly 40 percent said they’ve left jobs unfilled because they couldn’t find a qualified candidate.

Most often, employers told the chamber they struggled to find candidates with “soft skills.” They had more difficulties finding someone who could communicate or show up to work on time compared to finding an applicant with a firm handle on math, English and other academic skills.

ICYMI, these are conflicting statements coming from the governor’s office. We are falsely branding Indiana as a “State that Works” when businesses themselves say, “We have no work ethic.”

Which is it?

Well, according to the June, 2014 Indiana Chamber Survey, “We lack work ethic.” This is the voice of Hoosier businesses. We’ve heard some of the same remarks from local business men and women. Have they tried raising wages to attract more educated workers who might have a better work ethic?

We scoured the survey for an answer to that obvious question, but there was no mention of raising salaries. Where did the Indiana Chamber guide the survey respondents? Directly to Work One. Indiana Career Council. Works Council.

These organizations fall under Governor Mike Pence’s CECI which he created with a stroke of a pen, and the super majority of republicans are backing him up. This is the group who has tried usurping Glenda Ritz from Day 1. They literally moved the Public Education website run by Glenda Ritz’s office, and rolled it up under their new website – clearly showing Glenda’s role is to carry out the policies created by the State Board of Education.

As stated above, the Indiana Career Council also completed their strategic plan in June – same as the Indiana Chambers survey.

Coincidence? Probably not.

This was a coordinated effort, but much less transparent than the Governor’s recent Tax Summit scheme.

Here’s a hint, if you head over to the website for the CECI, they list their agencies:

  • Indiana Education  Roundtable
  • Indiana Career Council
  • Indiana Works Council
  • State Board of Education

CECI is charged with creating a strategic plan for converting our public education system into career training establishments where businesses tell schools what kind of employees they need, then our public schools can train future employees. The public education superintendent is being demoted to a place which merely carries out the strategic plans developed by CECI and the SBOE, or as instructed by the governor. It’s a hierarchy with top down authority and Glenda is way down in the list, but she and teachers, parents, and students, see her role much differently.

Glenda Ritz, by virtue of her election victory over Tony Bennett, the corporate owned puppet, envisions her role as advocate of what the people want. She represents a democracy while CECI and the SBOE represents the corporate theocracy – a fascist rule of lawmakers and businesses directing public education. The corporate fascists have no room in their hierarchy for a voice for the people.

Governor Pence thinks Hoosiers want him calling the shots on public education since you elected him governor. Therefore, he’s going to keep pushing his Koch funded, ALEC prepared education agenda.

This is why being informed voters are so important. For some reason, all the republicans who worked to get Glenda elected, should have also advocated against Mike Pence. They voted for Glenda for all the right reasons, but then supported Pence for all the wrong reasons. Now our students and parents will suffer the consequences until Pence and his super majority of conservative hacks are removed from public office in Indiana – they’ve done enough damage already, yet we’ve still got two more years.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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