INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana voters endorsed a conservative education agenda
by strengthening Republicans’ hold on the Legislature, governor-elect Mike
Pence said Wednesday, even though the state education chief who pushed the
initial overhaul was ousted.
Pence tried to stick to addressing the economy during a joint news
conference in Gov. Mitch Daniels’ office regarding the gubernatorial
transition, but the questions circled back to Democrat Glenda Ritz’s victory
Tuesday over incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.
Ritz promised to roll back the education agenda that Daniels and Bennett
pushed through the Legislature in 2011, which includes the nation’s largest
private school voucher program and linking teachers’ pay to student test
scores. Ritz got more votes in Tuesday’s election than Pence did, according
to unofficial returns posted on the Indiana secretary of state’s website.
Pence, however, didn’t see Ritz’s win as a referendum on the education
“We ran on a platform of continuing a bold agenda of education reform ...
and we’ve been given the opportunity to lead based on those ideas,” Pence
Ritz — who claimed she was supported by Democrats, Republicans and tea
parties — disagreed Wednesday afternoon.
“I don’t think that’s what the voters said at all,” she said. “I think they
spoke very clearly about the direction they want education to head.”
Indiana State Teachers Association President Nate Schnellenberger said Pence
was missing the point.
“I think that everybody understands that ... the result of this election
means that Hoosier voters, Hoosier taxpayers, believe that the so-called
education reforms were too radical and too fast-paced,” Schnellenberger
said. “I’m not saying that the reforms need to be abolished, but that they
need to be tweaked and made more reasonable and more sensible.”
Pence said he was disappointed that Bennett lost, but would be willing to
work with Ritz “to look for areas of common purpose.”
When it comes to education policy, though, “I’m pretty sure the buck stops
right over there,” Pence said, pointing at the governor’s desk.
“I’m sure we’ll be finding our common ground,” Ritz said in a telephone
interview. She said she knew Pence and legislators genuinely cared about
But Ritz made it clear she intends to try to trim back some of the changes
made by Bennett, including a set of math and language standards that she
thinks are weaker than Indiana’s previous standards. She also said the new
standards were imposed without consulting teachers or parents.
Suellen Reed, a Republican who served as state superintendent for 16 years
with governors from both parties, said she believed voters were tired of
“the contentious nature of the conversation that’s been going on” and she
believed Ritz could speak for educators whose voices had been muffled.
In most states, the governor appoints the state education chief, Daniels
said, adding that both parties in Indiana have favored such a change in the
past. Pence said he had not formed an opinion on whether the education job
should be elected or appointed.
“This is too important an office to not be elected,” Ritz said. “So I hope
that’s not going to be a path that anyone takes.”
House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, supports appointing the position,
but conceded Wednesday that such a move “probably took a little bit of a hit
on the chin with yesterday’s results.”
Despite the repeated questioning on education, Pence steered the topic back
to his plans for the economy, including a 10 percent cut in the personal
income tax rate that he said would help both individuals and small
Pence said Indiana residents have become accustomed to a “culture of
excellence” under Daniels, and he planned to continue and build on that.