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Indiana Democrats deal with education split

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On the face of it, the battles between Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, and supporters and staff for Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, have been a unifying force for state Democrats. But the fighting has exposed a deep rift within the party over how students are educated.

The most recent squabbling, at a State Board of Education meeting a little more than a week ago, spurred Democratic board member Gordon Hendry to write a letter outlining his frustrations with Ritz.

"I'm a proud Democrat who can remember the days when my party held the governor's office and the superintendent was a Republican. We never saw someone angrily walk out of a meeting, withhold information from fellow board members or file a frivolous lawsuit against them to make a political point," wrote Hendry, a deputy mayor under former Democratic Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, in a letter to the editor distributed by Pence's staff.

The Indiana Democratic Party fired back a day later with a joint letter from Sen. Tim Skinner, D-Terre Haute, and Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Crothersville. The pair wrote that Pence "undermined Ritz's Department of Education by creating a duplicative education bureaucracy, called the Center for Education and Career Innovation, which is stacked with staffers earning six-figure salaries. He also has appointed a State Board of Education that spends its meetings sharpening political axes, further proof the governor is actually less than willing to work with Ritz."

Most Democrats still seem to line up with Indiana's teachers unions and public school advocates, opposing sweeping changes pushed by former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and former GOP schools superintendent Tony Bennett and adopted by Pence. But a sizable -- and influential -- group of Democratic leaders wants their peers to pick up the cause of charter schools, vouchers and other changes.

"In this case, I think the Republicans have it right: people want choices," said Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott, former chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party.

In his case, he said he worries more families would flee the city if they were forced to send their children to Hammond's poorly performing public schools. But he adds that the state's teachers and public school leaders feel like they are "under attack," in part because of a clampdown on funding from the state.

However, McDermott, who is pondering a run for governor, said Pence needs to back off Ritz.

McDermott, Hendry and other Democrats backing sweeping education changes remain the exception, not the rule. The broad support from Indiana Democrats for the state's teachers unions is no surprise; the unions are one of the few remaining financial backers for Democrats in a state dominated by Republicans.

Of course, the party labels are somewhat nebulous in Indiana. Unlike other states in which voters are asked to register with a party, Indiana determines affiliation based on which party's ballot was pulled in the most recent primary. Republican operatives working the 2012 elections regularly pointed out that Ritz was a Republican, based on that measure, long before she was a Democrat.

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  • unions
    get unions out of education and we can actually start to make progress improving the system. as long as unions are involved, our education system will decline. unions may be one of the most corrupt organizations in todays work environment. they were benficial to workers 20 years ago, they are now corrupt and hurt economic growth, kill job growth, and the last thing they have in mind is helping the worker or in the educational system the actual student. the greed from union bosses is destroying jobs while the biggest fraud is that of union workers actually believing unions work for them.
  • Bob, You Are Jumping to Conclusions Without the Facts
    Bob - My point is that the issue was aired in the public without the principals making an effort to reach some type of accord. This is pure political posturing and only makes the situation worse. And "no" I don't have an axe to grind. My kids are all grown and out of college. I did read the letter and it made some good points but could have been circulated among the Board members rather than via an op/ed piece in the paper.
  • Really
    Jim F you sound like you have an axe to grind. Are you a representative of the teachers union? "Unnecessary letter?" Have you never heard of a policy disagreement? I suppose in our utopia everyone just agrees on everything. Did you even read the letter?
  • Are There Any Grownups In the Room?
    I suspect most of us in the general public want all sides to cooperate to forge policies that move the schools and students forward. Hendry's unnecessary public letter unnecessarily distributed by Pence's new organization staff just makes the matter worse. In fact, the entire saga is sickening! Perhaps, we should put the students in charge. They would likely act more grownup and forthright.
  • Read Carefully
    The most recent squabbling, at a State Board of Education meeting a little more than a week ago, spurred Democratic board member Gordon Hendry to write a letter outlining his frustrations with Ritz. "I'm a proud Democrat who can remember the days when my party held the governor's office and the superintendent was a Republican. We never saw someone angrily walk out of a meeting, withhold information from fellow board members or file a frivolous lawsuit against them to make a political point," wrote Hendry, a deputy mayor under former Democratic Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, in a letter to the editor distributed by Pence's staff.
  • effective
    Anyone that is opposed to finding more effective and cost effecient ways of spending tax payer money for our public education system, is against our students, and education in general.
  • Opposition
    Anyone that is opposed to finding new revenue for our public education system, is against our students, teachers, and education in general.

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