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Slim qualifications for ed subcommittee chair

As Indiana secretary of state, Todd Rokita's efforts in education were limited to a blatantly partisan swipe at teacher unions, but in the U.S. House, that apparently qualifies one to head up the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. Rep. John Kline, chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, has appointed the second-term Republican to lead the subcommittee.

"In recent years, Indiana has helped lead the way with groundbreaking education reforms that have set an example for the rest of the nation. I'm excited to serve as chairman of the subcommittee with oversight over K-12 education, where I will have the opportunity to take what we've learned in Indiana to Washington, and also to ensure that states like Indiana have the flexibility and help they need to deliver top-quality education for students and families," Rokita said in a news release.

The 4th District congressman apparently missed the results of Indiana's Nov. 7 election, where incumbent State Superintendent Tony Bennett was soundly defeated by Glenda Ritz, a Marion County media specialist and National Board Certified teacher. Rokita's efforts to spread Indiana's so-called reforms are likely to meet resistance from a growing number of educators and parents angered by efforts to steer public dollars to voucher entitlements and for-profit providers.

One of the education subcommittee's major responsibilities is oversight of the federal Head Start program, a key piece of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty. Along with other Indiana Republicans, Rokita voted against the fiscal cliff settlement on Tuesday.

"I opposed this bill because we have a spending problem, and the deal sent over by the Senate makes it worse. I will not consign our children to a debtors' prison just to block President Obama's tax hikes," he said in a statement.

The spending cuts he supported would have had a devastating effect on Head Start and other early childhood education programs, which depend on federal funding for about 75 percent of their support.

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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