Redelman: School Choice Week a Reminder of Indiana’s Progress

The following is the first of a week-long series of blogs in support of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1) from some of Indiana’s leading figures in this ongoing educational effort. The first is authored by Derek Redelman — the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of education and workforce policy.

When National School Choice Week started in early 2011, Indiana was an emerging state in the school choice arena – but far from a leader. Ten years prior, Indiana had passed a moderately strong charter school law that, by 2001, had accommodated about 22,000 students; and a scholarship tax credit, passed in 2009, was serving a few hundred students. In total, just about 2% of the state’s entire student population was benefiting from school choice laws.

By the end of 2011, the environment had changed dramatically. Indiana had passed a voucher law that national leaders were calling the most expansive school choice program in the country. Two years later, over 20,000 Hoosier kids are receiving vouchers, and one national organization — the Center for Education Reform — now ranks Indiana No. 1 in its Parent Power Index – a state-by-state measure of parent choices.

For context, consider this: In just two years, Indiana’s voucher program reached participation levels that a decent charter school law had taken 10 years to reach. As a state, some might say that we went from “wannabe” status to the nation’s undisputed leader.

But as we reached that status in relatively short order, so might the pendulum swing the other way with equal rapidity. We needn’t look any further than the defeat of State Superintendent Tony Bennett – arguably the greatest catalyst in our recent transformation – for evidence of that potential.

And thus is demonstrated the continuing or even growing importance of events like National School Choice Week. As the Indiana Chamber will do through a series of guest blogs this week, we must remember the families and the purpose of these important efforts; and we must not withdraw from the leadership that has, in large part, been a core of the business community’s engagement.

Indiana is now THE leader in school choice. But just as we surpassed others to leap into that spot, so might we lose that status without continued effort.

Facts Ignored, Politics Winning on Common Core

Two moms from Indianapolis, a handful of their friends and a couple dozen small but vocal Tea Party groups. That’s the entire Indiana movement that is advocating for a halt to the Common Core State Standards. No educational backgrounds. No track record of supporting education reforms or any other past education issues. And worst of all: A demonstrated willingness to say just about anything, no matter how unsubstantiated or blatantly false, to advocate their cause.

Meanwhile, the policy that they are attacking was implemented by former Gov. Mitch Daniels, then State Superintendent Tony Bennett, the Indiana Education Roundtable and the State Board of Education. To date, 45 other states have also adopted it. Common Core has been supported by superintendents, school boards, Indiana’s Catholic and other private schools, principals, teachers unions, the Indiana PTA, various education reform groups, higher education and more. The business community is actively engaged, including strong support from the Indiana Chamber, Eli Lilly, Cummins, Dow AgroSciences, IU Health and many others.

Given that lineup, to whom would you expect the Legislature to be listening? Amazingly, for many in both the House and Senate Republican caucuses, it’s the former and not the latter. Few legislators know anything about Common Core other than the rhetoric that has been thrown at them. Yet, it appears that a majority of Republican legislators are willing to heed those calls, to ignore the more thorough reviews and judgment of individuals and groups that have led on education issues and to throw out two years of implementation that have been underway at schools throughout the state.

A Look at the 2012 Election

An election of historic proportions has just taken place in our nation and right here in Indiana. There were some big surprises, big changes, and a lot of "status quo" outcomes.  Read all the results in the Indiana Chamber/IBRG’s 2012 General Elections Report.

The things that didn’t surprise political analysts:

  • Joe Donnelly defeated Richard Mourdock for the U.S. Senate
  • Mike Pence won the Governor’s race
  • Indiana House Republicans won 69 seats, achieving a quorum-proof (or walkout-proof) majority
  • In the Indiana Senate, not a single incumbent of either party was defeated

The things that did surprise political analysts:

  • Mike Pence won the governor’s race by an unexpectedly tight 3.2 percentage points
  • Dr. Tony Bennett was defeated for re-election as Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • 23 freshmen legislators were elected to the House; 42% of the new House roster will include legislators with two or less years of experience in office

The Indiana Chamber’s non-partisan political action program, Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG), had a good election: 61 of 77 IBRG-endorsed candidates facing opponents won their races; 8 of 9 candidates endorsed for the U.S. Congress were victorious.

The Elections Report will be updated as final results and additional analysis are assembled in the hours and days following the election. Check back at or for updates. For more information or questions, please contact Jeff Brantley ([email protected]), vice president of political affairs and PAC.

Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG), the non-partisan political action program of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, was heavily involved in support of pro-jobs, pro-prosperity candidates.

Education Event to Rank ‘Reformiest’ State

For those paying attention in Indiana, you know that "education reform" has been one of the most popular phrases of 2011. But the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is apparently not sure if Hoosier K-12 changes rank as the best in the Midwest.

On August 11, Fordham is hosting Education Reform Idol: The Reformiest State 2011. Indiana will be vying against neighbors Ohio and Illinois, nearby Wisconsin and oft-cited reform leader Florida. The 90-minute Washington, D.C. event will have a representative from each state (Tony Bennett does the honors for Indiana) making its case, with a prestigious three-person panel selecting the "winner."

Fordham is billing it as the "education policy event of the summer." Interested persons can watch a live webcast.

Having interviewed Bennett several times and heard him speak on numerous other occasions, the other panelists best beware. The superintendent of public instruction’s passion seems made for this type of event.

Enough is Enough! Get Back to Work, Folks

It’s time for the rhetoric and political theater to stop. It’s time for members of the Indiana House to return to work and do the job – helping to govern our state – they were elected to do.

Over 250 pieces of legislation have come to a standstill because of the House Democrats’ walkout. Important proposals to grow our state’s economy, to create jobs, to keep the state fiscally sound – and to even pass a budget – are all in jeopardy.

The legislative proposals that led to the House shutdown:

  • Education reforms to improve teacher evaluations, introduce performance pay, limit collective bargaining to wages and benefits, and increase accountability. These should not be partisan issues at all.  In fact, President Obama and leading groups like Democrats for Education Reform actually support these efforts.
  • Funding schools based on a per-pupil formula, not guaranteed funding levels at shrinking school districts.
  • School choice vouchers and expanded public charter school options, so Hoosier families can have more access to quality schools for their kids.
  • Protecting the rights of workers to secret ballot votes in union elections, a core democratic principle.
  • Open and fair competition for public construction projects. Just as public projects shouldn’t be forced to be non-union, they shouldn’t be forced to be "union only."
  • Right-to-work (which is now off the table this year), even though it’s the single most effective step Indiana could take to attract jobs and 70% of Hoosiers support it.
  • In other words, the House has been brought to a standstill to protect the status quo in K-12 education and to preserve special privileges and powers of organized labor. It’s as simple as that.

These are important issues and good and honorable people can disagree about them. However, the democratic process cannot work if elected officials refuse to participate in the process. 

Call to action: Please take a moment to contact state representatives to tell them it is time to end this destructive walkout and get back to work. You can send a quick e-mail via our online grassroots system or call (800) 382-9842.

Administration Announces New Plan for Indiana Education

Gov. Daniels and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett have released a new plan for Indiana schools — and that plan was endorsed yesterday by the Indiana Education Roundtable. The Indy Star has the story:

The Indiana Education Roundtable, made up of education, business and civic leaders, unanimously recommended an education reform agenda being championed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and supported by Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The next step is for the reform to be packaged into a series of bills that will be put before state legislators when they convene Jan. 5…

Garnering the most attention and what Bennett emphasized the most was improving the teacher evaluation process and awarding teachers based on performance rather than seniority.

The influence of teacher’s unions also was addressed in the reform agenda, including focusing collective bargaining agreements "on salaries and wage-related benefits, including innovative ways to recognize performance through compensation."

Gov. Mitch Daniels said various drafts of the bills are being pondered and that a first draft could be laid out in a couple of weeks.

"Every word we’ve said about how complicated this is true," Daniels said after the meeting. "But the day has come that we have to act."

You can find an outline of the plan here.

You can also listen to Indiana Chamber VP of Education & Workforce Development Derek Redelman offer his take on the proposed reforms.

‘Superman,’ Schools and What’s Next

Indianapolis may be leading the country in Waiting for "Superman" viewing parties. And that’s a good thing. I had the opportunity last week to catch the documentary being touted as the key to pushing the education reform battle over the top.

Many of the 200-plus people at the showing I attended did appear to be genuinely moved. Moved by the story of five young students from various big cities whose fates were largely tied to whether they gained the luck of the lottery in order to enter a school that would give them a good education and a chance at a solid future. Moved by the parents who were trying any way they could to create a better life for their children. By the way, it’s not just an urban problem, but a widespread challenge that does not discriminate by locale.

The attendees asked the right questions — primarily centered around "What can we do to help, to make a difference?" — of Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett after the screening. Bennett, as always, brought passion to his remarks and guidance.

Personally, I was not really surprised by what I saw during the documentary or entirely convinced that the well-told stories would be able to live up to its savior-type hype. On reflection, I think that means I’m getting old. I’ve seen too many solid reform efforts go by the wayside, too many political fights get in the way of sound policies, too many instances of people saying the right things, but the status quo prevailing in the end.

But all hope is not lost. I understand the importance of reform and not letting thousands (not just a few) of children fall through the cracks. I do believe now, more than any other time, offers promise. Not because of the movie, but because of the leaders rallying the troops. Kudos to Bennett, to the Indianapolis Star for its focus on education and others determined to change the complacency of adults, an attitude that plagues young people now and potentially for the rest of their lives.

My advice: go see the movie if you haven’t already; check out the "Superman" web site to learn how you can help; and if you’re not convinced there is a problem in Indiana, take this five-question quiz provided by The Foundation for Educational Choice. Yes, you have to submit some contact information to get the answers, but the wake-up call is worth an e-mail or two you might receive in the future. 

Hijacking the $timulus Dollars

Whether one agrees with the philosophy behind federal stimulus money, it is difficult to argue with the practice of accepting the dollars once they are offered. If you (as a state) turn away the cash, it will go somewhere else.

Another story is how to use the funds, particularly in the case of the soon-to-be-arriving education stimulus. One can make a strong argument for a cautious approach; in other words, why go out and spend now when you’re likely going to need it even more later?

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett put it this way when informing school districts how much they should receive come November. (The federal law says the money does not have to be spent until September 2012).

"With your staffs and budgets set for the 2010-2011 school year, I urge you to be careful with how and when you spend these funds. Please consider reserving this one-time funding until the level of resources budgeted by the General Assembly in the upcoming budget cycle become clearer."

That won’t be clear until late April in 2011, if then.

While timing may be a consideration, I suspect that taking the education dollars and using them to fill a Medicaid budget gap was not what those doing the allocating had in mind. But that appears to be the case in Rhode Island. The Providence Journal reports:

Instead, Governor Carcieri intends to use the $32.9 million Rhode Island is eligible to receive to plug an estimated $38-million deficit in this year’s budget.

His plan drew a strong protest from Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, Congressman James R. Langevin and representatives of teachers unions and the state’s school committees.

School districts across the state were hoping that more than 400 teaching jobs would be restored or protected after Congress passed the bill in August. Nationwide, the law allocates $10 billion for schools and $16.1 billion to prevent Medicaid cuts.

Rhode Island is eligible to receive more than $100 million, $32.9 million intended for education jobs and about $70 million for Medicaid reimbursements.

But that’s about $38 million less for Medicaid than the state was counting on when it passed the 2010-11 budget, said Carcieri’s spokeswoman, Amy Kempe.

“While I’m sure it may be technically allowable and that the governor’s office is doing the appropriate thing, I don’t think we are acknowledging the intention of President Obama, [U.S. Education Secretary Arne] Duncan or Congress had for these funds,” Gist said.

Gist said she is especially concerned because the state is facing an even worse budget gap in fiscal year 2012 and the education jobs money could be spent during that year as well. According to the state Budget Office, the overall deficit could be as large as $320 million next year.

The executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island also criticized the governor’s plan, particularly after Carcieri and the General Assembly reduced state education aid to schools by 3.6 percent this year, a $29-million cut.

“I voted for this bill to help keep Rhode Island teachers on the job,” Langevin said in a statement. “Properly supporting our state’s education system is the best way to reverse our current economic situation over the long term.”

Officials at the U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday that using the federal money to supplant state funding is not expressly prohibited, although they cautioned they will carefully review each state’s application to ensure it follows the guidelines.

Oh No! We’re Even With California

Getting more of the education dollars into the classroom has been a constant theme for Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. But in July, the State Budget Agency released a report that indicated Hoosier districts spent an average of 57.8% in the classroom in the 2008-2009 school year, a decrease from 60.6% the previous year.

These numbers always come with controversy. Districts themselves are much more generous with what qualifies as a classroom expenditure, so their numbers can often dramatically differ from what a government or independent review will find. The goal of 65% into the classroom is also not without dispute.

What makes this interesting at this time is that a Pepperdine University review of California education spending from 2003-2004 to 2008-2009 found that direct classroom expenditures statewide went from 59% to 57.8%. Yikes, we’re tied with California. When it comes to money and expenditures, that can’t be a good thing.

A couple of other nuggets from the Pepperdine report (where they evidently do have more than surfing as a major; really, it must be the college campus with the most scenic views):

  • School spending increased by 25.8% per capita during the five-year period. So much for all that talk about spending cuts
  • Teacher salaries and benefits accounted for 48% of spending, a lower number than I would have anticipated
  • The president of the California Foundation for Education and Commerce stated: "If California had the extra $1.8 billion that went to things other than teaching, we might have been able to hire more than 22,000 teachers statewide."