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Previewing the Pence-Bennett team

Education Week takes a look at school issues in gubernatorial contests, including Indiana's race for governor:

Indiana faces an interesting set of contests as candidates seek to fill Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' seat in 2012. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, an advocate for charter schools and voucher programs and Mr. Daniels' policy co-pilot, is running again as the Republican candidate for superintendent.

In his campaign, Mr. Bennett may end up focusing on initiatives with broader appeal, such as the $80 million boost in state funding next year for full-day kindergarten, said Terry Spradlin, the director for education policy at Indiana University's Center for Evaluation and Education Policy in Bloomington, Ind.

Still, the likely GOP nominee for governor, U.S. Rep Mike Pence, who is unopposed in the May 8 primary, could simply defer to Mr. Bennett on education policy, Mr. Spradlin suggested.

"They will have a common agenda. I think they will see eye to eye," he said.

Both Mr. Pence, who is expected to face Democrat John Gregg for the governor's seat in the general election, and Mr. Bennett will be looking to build on the education record that Mr. Daniels helped to create. If Mr. Pence and Mr. Bennett win, in 2013 they could examine the share of state dollars going to classrooms and whether the timeline for state takeover of failing schools should be shortened.

Praise for Mr. Daniels and Mr. Bennett's initiatives is not uniform. For example, in a November poll conducted by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., only 34 percent of adult state residents approved of expanding school vouchers—a key initiative from Mr. Bennett and Mr. Daniels—with 37 opposed and 28 percent with no opinion yet.

At the same time, 75 percent of respondents with children in public schools were "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with schools.

"I don't see an ad that says, 'The failed education policies of Mitch Daniels,' " said Andrew Downs, the director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

One note: I agree with CEEP's Terry Spradlin that Mike Pence and Tony Bennett will have a common agenda, but only at the start. Having known Pence since 1988, when he made his first of two unsuccessful bids for Congress, I would suggest that he'll see eye to eye with Bennett only if he perceives public opinion is on their side. But Pence will distance himself from the agenda as soon as Bennett's unpopularity with public school teachers, administrators and some parents appears to affect his own political standing. I don't believe he'll have the appetite for or interest in taking over public schools that Bennett and Daniels have. (More on that later, with a look back at an interesting dinner party in the early '90s).

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Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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