INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Legislative races across the state this year have quietly shaped up to be
continuations of the acrid education fights that have punctuated the past
two Indiana election cycles.
Superintendent Glenda Ritz and union leaders have attempted to trade on her
surprise upset of former schools chief Tony Bennett two years ago with wide
candidate recruitment and extensive campaigning throughout the state. House
Republicans and conservatives, meanwhile, have been seeking to protect the
Republican supermajority in the House with extensive spending and sweeping
changes in education made in 2011.
The fight is still
the same as in the 2010 and 2012 elections: supporters of conservative
education overhauls fighting supporters of the established public school
system and teachers unions. The players are the same, too, with the unions
lining up money and support for (mostly) Democrats, while conservative
education reformers line up (mostly) with Republicans.
But some of the
names have changed: Hoosiers for School Choice, the chief group backed by
Republican powerbrokers, changed its name to Hoosiers for Quality Education.
The messaging has changed, too: Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma dropped
all mention of “education reform” at his rollout of the House Republicans’
2015 agenda, instead talking extensively of “public education.”
A couple of factors
have merged to make education one of the defining issues of the 2014 cycle,
said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. The release of a report
showing vouchers cutting into public school funding for the first time and
the large number of candidates looking to rely on the “Ritz machine” have
contributed to that focus, he said.
is public education,” Downs said, noting that support for public education
was written into the state constitution in 1816.
The public thinking
has become, “While we’re willing to accept some money going to support those
who wish to send their children to private school, or religious school,
that’s fine, but at some point you cross a line.”
Both sides have
been throwing large amounts of money, at least by state legislative
standards, into a handful of key House and Senate races to get their
arguments across. Hoosiers for Quality Education, the group closely
associated with Bennett and his supporters, gave $275,000 to candidates over
the past six months, while the Indiana State Teachers Association, still
ailing from a pension scandal and multi-million dollar settlement with the
state, gave a whopping $957,000 in the same period.
Both sides are
using controversial and unpopular surrogates as part of their attacks. In a
northern Indiana race, Democrat Deb Porter was hit with an attack comparing
her to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. In southern Indiana, Republican
Erin Houchin was hit with a Democratic attack tying her to Bennett.
For his part, Bosma
looks to be protecting his caucus members with both extensive spending by
the campaign committee and his messaging pivot on education.
that school funding will be overhauled in 2015 to give more money to rural
and suburban schools is a nod to the political realities of Bennett’s
stunning loss in 2012.
groups came together to oust Bennett: teachers angry over sweeping changes,
tea partyers angry over Common Core and suburban voters angry over “A-F”
Whatever comes of
this most recent election cycle, count on the education battles to continue
inside the Statehouse this session. And count on the same dynamics driving