The Journal Gazette
Sunday, October 18, 2020 1:00 am

Election preview

Candidates tout education plans

Naming state schools official now role of governor

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Education accounts for more than half the state's spending every year, and Indiana's three gubernatorial candidates have varied priorities.

For the first time, the next Indiana governor also gets to tap the state's top schools official – the Secretary of Education – after lawmakers made the superintendent of public instruction an appointed post.

Libertarian Donald Rainwater would reverse course and put more technical and vocational training back in schools instead of focusing so much on college. He noted many jobs are unfilled that require relatively simple certifications.

“I think we have fallen very much into a one-size-fits-all pattern of education that is centered around something other than the children. Every child has different educational needs, strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

Democrat Dr. Woody Myers agrees that high school should be rethought. He favors the first two years focusing on basics such as history, algebra and writing but then the second two years should either be preparing the student for college or technical school.

Rainwater doesn't support statewide standardized testing – and thinks education dollars should follow the child.

“The argument that that's public money and the government has some interest in dictating is completely and utterly wrong. It's taxpayer money – not public money,” he said.

Rainwater wouldn't name who his education secretary would be; neither would GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb or Myers.

Holcomb said people who are interested in the job have reached out to his campaign, but he has not been recruiting. He plans to name the person – if re-elected – in November.

The governor also says the state has quality options right now for parents to choose from – traditional public schools, public charter schools and private voucher schools.

“I don't want to do anything that takes away from that,” Holcomb said.

Given how schools have been forced to adjust to online instruction during much of 2020, Holcomb said he is willing to have a conversation on whether to waive state accountability rules for schools for a year. Test scores largely place schools in A to F rankings and there are state consequences for failing schools. 

Though Holcomb announced a commission in 2018 to study how to improve teacher pay in the state, the panel has held off issuing its report because of the precarious financial position the state is in after losing nearly $1 billion in tax revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That means Holcomb might not come through on a promise to address the long-term inequity Hoosier teachers have compared to other states.

Myers, though, said doing nothing isn't a choice. He suggests shelving the expensive state accountability test and pulling back on paying upwards of $170 million a year to send kids to private schools that don't live by the same rules as public schools.

“We are losing teachers and have 1,000 vacancies,” he said. “It's all about setting priorities.”

Myers also said the state needs to have proper oversight for charter schools – noting a virtual charter school stole millions by inflating enrollment numbers.

“There is clearly inadequate oversight,” he said.

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