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Teachers, hear them roar

If Gov. Mitch Daniels and Gov.-elect Mike Pence believe last week's election results were an affirmation of the dismantling of public education in Indiana, there are plenty of Hoosiers prepared to tell them otherwise. Glenda Ritz won a decisive victory over state Superintendent Tony Bennett; outpolling even Pence.

The very day Pence and Daniels made remarks discounting Ritz's win and publicly warning her that "reform" would not be rolled back, a new Facebook page appeared, "Indiana Bipartisan Support of Public Education," started by a young Republican named Sharon Adams.

"They still don't seem to understand how agitated folks are," posted Cecelia Tucker on the new page. "I deliberately did not vote for any Republicans after 40 years of predominantly voting for them. They are too indoctrinated with the think tank directives and they don't listen to their constituents. And they are just BULLIES! We can't take away their wealthy funders but we can work with their minions they will soon be commanding in legislative sessions."

On Sunday, Bloomington resident Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer posted a petition at Change.org, with the statement:

"We call upon Governor Daniels, future governor Mike Pence, the D.O.E. Board, and our legislature to respect voters' clear message on the direction of public education in Indiana. We affirm our support for our candidate and her platform:

"More time to education, less time to testing"

The use of high-stake testing to judge children, schools, and communities harms the process of teaching and learning.

"More control to local school districts to implement state and federal standards"

Local schools need resources and support, not rigid dictates.

"Clear the barriers to quality vocational education"

Schools must be given the flexibility to support a vibrant curriculum for high school students' vocational interests.

"Make teacher licensing and evaluation standards top in the nation"

All children should be taught by qualified instructors. Effective teacher preparation programs are vital, and teacher licensing should be based upon comprehensive, effective teacher preparation.

"Stop the flow of public tax dollars to private education companies running take-over schools"

We believe public tax dollars belong in public schools. All school districts in Indiana deserve equitable funding.

The vote for Glenda Ritz is a mandate for the protection of the child's constitutional right to a free, high-quality public education as articulated in Article 8, Section 1 of the Indiana State Constitution, funded by tax dollars.

Fuentes-Rohwer, a mother of four with a master's degree in the Social Foundations of Education, has collected nearly 1,500 signatures on her petition in less than 24 hours.

"Please make no mistake: my vote for Glenda Ritz was ABSOLUTELY a vote AGAINST the 'reform' policies instigated by Tony Bennett and his cronies," wrote Amy Dedina of Odon, Ind., in signing the petition. "Please stop using Indiana students as for-profit pawns and cease maligning our state's hardworking teachers when they try to stand up for the kids."

Separately, Indianapolis resident Chris Sprinkle started a petition: "Mike Pence, Indiana Governor Elect: Work with Glenda Ritz to better Education in Indiana." His petition had almost 900 signatures by Monday afternoon.

"If teachers were almost completely unanimous in their vehement disapproval of Bennett's policies, shouldn't that mean something?" wrote Matthew Carnagua of Mount Vernon, Ind.

"I've heard good things about your character but was afraid to vote for you because of what might happen to education. Please don't prove me right," warned Indianapolis resident Joy Mansfield.

For his part, the governor-elect continued to display a deaf ear. Late last week, he named Fred Klipsch to his transition committee. Klipsch is chairman of both the School Choice of Indiana board and the Educational Choice Charitable Trust. He contributed $10,000 to Bennett's campaign on Oct. 31; another $5,000 in 2010.

Appointing a disciple of the Bennett agenda is hardly the way to reach out to Indiana voters who soundly rejected that course.

Granted, it's easy to sign an online petition, but the grassroots campaign Ritz won last week relied heavily on social networking. Now that educators and parents have the attention of their family, friends and neighbors, it's likely they will keep them posted as more threats to public education arise.

One of those threats already appears to be bubbling up. More on that later.

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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