First in an occasional series
In the race to the governor’s office, Indiana’s major-party candidates have sketched some early ideas on education. But what plan could they propose that hasn’t already been enacted by the General Assembly or implemented by the Indiana Department of Public Education – with public support or without it?
How, for example, could Republican Mike Pence offer Hoosier parents any more choice than they’ve already been given?
And how will Democrat John Gregg deliver on early childhood education promises long made but never fulfilled?
But the more important question for Hoosiers weary of Indiana’s extreme schoolhouse makeover might be: Is there any difference between the candidates?
Fortunately, there are some clues for voters facing a choice Nov. 6.
Rupert Boneham, a three-time contestant on the “Survivor” reality TV show, is the Libertarian candidate. In 2008, the party received just more than 2 percent of the 2.7 million votes cast for governor.
Gregg, an attorney and former Indiana legislator, comes closer to claiming education career credentials with a stint as interim president of Vincennes University, where he earned an associate’s degree before transferring to Indiana University. While it was an administrative position, his experience at Vincennes, a public institution offering mostly two-year degrees, offered a broad perspective of the state’s education continuum.
“Four-year college should be affordable for everyone who wants to go, but we also need to make sure that Indiana students know about career opportunities that exist for students that get a two-year degree or certification,” according to Gregg. “Some of these students can get jobs that pay in the neighborhood of $65,000 per year without having to go through four years of college.”
Gregg’s tenure at Vincennes in 2003-04 included the demise of the community college partnership with Ivy Tech.
“Although I’ve got a lot of friends at Ivy Tech, they had no desire for the community college program to succeed with Vincennes University being part of it or an equal partner; in fact, I know it would’ve been better. But it wasn’t meant to be, and that’s that,” he wrote in his 2008 book, “From Sandborn to the Statehouse.”
Pence’s education experience was also at his alma mater, southern Indiana’s Hanover College, where he worked for two years as an admissions counselor and recruiter. After two unsuccessful bids for Congress, he became president of the Fort Wayne-based Indiana Policy Review Foundation, a conservative think tank examining the state’s record on government, education and the economy.
“The most important education experience I’ve had is my 27-year marriage to my wife Karen, who has been a career educator,” according to Pence.
On the record
The candidates’ decade-plus records as state and federal lawmakers are informative.
Gregg served eight terms in the Indiana House, including four years as House speaker. The state’s first foray into school choice – adoption of its charter-school law – came under his leadership.
“We worked together with Republicans to pass an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill that made sense,” he said in an email response. “It created an opportunity for education to improve, but it also included protections for both students and teachers. Because we worked together, we had the support of business leaders, teachers, principals, superintendents and reformers.”
Gregg was a first-term legislator when Republican Gov. Robert Orr’s sweeping A+ education program was approved, but only with the support of key Democrats because some GOP members opposed the tax increase required to lengthen the school year from 175 to 180 days.
“I voted against Gov. Orr’s A+ legislation when it originally came up,” Gregg said. “However, I believe that Gov. Orr deserves a great amount of credit for being one of our first leaders to bring these issues to the forefront of the state discussion.”
Pence will be “an education governor,” proclaims the candidate’s wife in his most recent campaign commercial. His legislative record, however, is thin on school-related work. His U.S. House committee assignments are foreign affairs and judiciary. None of his floor speeches or opinion articles over the past four years addressed education issues. He voted against the federal stimulus package, 20 percent of which was earmarked for education.
He also opposed the landmark No Child Left Behind legislation, now widely assailed.
“I was one of the strongest opponents of No Child Left Behind and continue to believe that education is a state and local function,” Pence said.
Indiana’s next governor inherits the results of what is likely the most far-reaching education agenda ever enacted. Orr’s A+ program was sweeping, but it was a bipartisan effort. The voucher law, charter-school expansion, changes to the teacher collective bargaining law and other bills were approved by Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Significant protests surrounded most.
“I do not support vouchers that subsidize private schools at the expense of public education,” Gregg said. “One of my criticisms with the recent changes is that they were made without getting input from everyone. Instead of working with teachers to come up with a system that makes sense, many people decided to scapegoat schoolteachers as part of the problem. … Teachers want to make their schools stronger; they just also want a voice in how to do that.”
Pence is pleased with the education legislation of the past four years. He said he would not only have supported vouchers but hopes to expand school choice.
“Just look at the results so far,” he said. “Students are showing better results on math and reading. Graduation rates are up. Over 9,000 students from low- and middle-income families will attend a school of their choice this fall. Teachers are now evaluated based on their students’ achievement and not on how many years they have been a teacher. Indiana is attracting some of the most effective and innovative charter school operators to open schools here in Indiana.”
Both candidates said they support high-quality preschool programs, but only Gregg has outlined specific plans to pay for them. They include a pilot pre-K program for 4-year-olds and a state child-care tax credit for “quality child care for low- and moderate-income working families.”
Pence cites the Busy Bees Academy in Columbus as an example of “the kind of innovative, community-driven pre-K effort that the state of Indiana should be supporting.”
Gregg and Pence, both graduates of IU School of Law, pledged to play an active role in higher education.
Citing his Vincennes experience, Gregg said he understands “many of the challenges that our colleges and universities face day in and out.”
“I want to work to foster partnerships between our great universities and businesses that are developing technologies and incubating Indiana companies.”
“Higher education is a critical piece of our workforce pipeline that helps prepare Hoosiers for the jobs of tomorrow,” Pence said. “I will work to enact my announced ideas and continually look for new ideas to improve access to and affordability of our colleges and universities.”