Election 2016

In replacing Pence in governors race, Holcomb calls for cooperation on education

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
The Indiana Republican Party picked Eric Holcomb as its 2016 nominee for Indiana governor.

Indiana’s Republican party today solved one political mystery by naming Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb as its candidate for governor but, for educators, another huge question remains: Will Holcomb follow the lead of the last two Republican governors with a big push for changes in how schools are managed and teachers and students are judged?

As he was introduced as a replacement on the Republican ticket for Gov. Mike Pence, who has joined Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as his running mate, Holcomb hinted at a need for bipartisan cooperation on critical issues facing the state, especially education.

“I’m going to reach out to everyone, even if I don’t agree with them on a certain specific issue,” he said. “I won’t sacrifice my core principles but we need to be more together. ”

That could mean a more productive relationship with Democrats like state Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

READ: Find more on this year's races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.
READ: Find more on this year’s races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.

Ritz has spent much of the past four years clashing with Pence over the direction the state would take on education policy. She’s up for re-election in November, facing Republican challenger Jennifer McCormick.

Democrats were quick to paint Holcomb’s candidacy as simply an extension of Pence’s agenda.

“Eric Holcomb wholeheartedly embraced the failed approach that embarrassed our state, cost us jobs and has left the middle class behind,” his Democratic opponent, former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg said in a statement, an apparent reference to Pence’s controversial support of religious liberty bills, angering gay rights activists who argued they endorsed discrimination.

While speaking to reporters, Holcomb repeatedly returned to the theme of building broad partnerships, saying partners are key to giving Hoosier kids the best educational opportunities. He offered no specifics about the policy direction he might take.

“I want to be the best partner I can be with anyone that wants to make sure every kid in Indiana has access to the best education available,” he said in response to a question that referenced Pence’s four-year battle with Ritz for control of the state’s direction on education. “I want Indiana to be known as that.”

Echoing Pence’s approach to education, Holcomb described education as important both for individual kids and and for the state’s long-term economic health.

“That is a big driver when it comes to, not just improving someone’s life and having access to all options, but also building our state,” Holcomb said. “We need it for a 21st century workforce. I am going to work to be the best partner I can with anyone — anyone — who says they want a Hoosier kid to have access to an extraordinary education.”

Republican appointees on the Indiana State Board of Education have blocked many of Ritz’s proposals and pushed the agenda of her predecessor, Tony Bennett including efforts to expand charter schools and vouchers and to hold students, teachers and schools accountable for test scores.

In his 19 years in politics, Holcomb has mostly worked behind the scenes for Republican office holders and for the Republican Party. He chaired the state party for more than five years before Pence appointed him lieutenant governor in March.

His views on education are not well known, but he was a key adviser to former Gov. Mitch Daniels for seven years while Daniels pushed for big changes in education in the state, including strongly supporting Bennett’s reform efforts.

The one education issue he was specifically asked about in today’s press conference was whether he would support expanded public funding of preschool.

“I am all for it when it’s responsibly done,” he said. “I’ll work toward it.”

The state’s pilot scholarship program to help poor families pay preschool tuition was one of Pence’s signature accomplishments. But he resisted calls to expand the program this year and was heavily criticized for pulling Indiana out of the application process for a multi-million dollar federal grant to support preschool. Earlier this summer he reversed his position and said Indiana should seek the federal grant.

Indiana 2016 Election

The biggest donation in the IPS school board race came from an unexpected source

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

In the battle for control of the Indianapolis Public School board, the largest single campaign contribution came from an unexpected source: the teachers’ union. But the donation didn’t help the union-backed candidate.

In recent years, IPS board races have been dominated by pro-school reform candidates who have attracted large contributions from deep-pocketed donors. But in other elections — at other times, in other places — it’s common for teachers’ unions to spend big.

That’s what happened this time in Indianapolis.

Critics of the current administration made their first organized bid to unseat incumbent board members in 2016 when they formed the group OurIPS. The group didn’t donate to candidates, but the district-wide candidate the group supported, Jim Grim, did win a $15,000 contribution from the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Despite that cash, all four candidates backed by OurIPS lost on Election Day.

The contribution to Grim’s campaign was revealed in final campaign finance reports due to the Marion County Election Board last week. The disclosures detail fundraising and spending for each school board campaign, but they don’t include groups such as Stand for Children, which sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses but is not required to disclose all of its political activity.

Although the union donation was easily the largest single contribution any candidate received, other candidates did raise more in total. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce spent more overall but gave to four candidates.

Here are the totals for each race:

At-large

Grim raised $20,930 during the election. His opponents were incumbent Sam Odle, who raised $31,893, and challenger Elizabeth Gore, who won a surprise victory in the raise. Gore has not filed a finance report, but she told Chalkbeat after the election that she raised about $1,200.

District 1

Incumbent Michael O’Connor vastly out fundraised his opponent in the race, raising $23,543, according to his disclosure. Challenger Christine Prince raised $100.

District 2

Venita Moore, a newcomer who won the seat with support from Stand for Children, raised $25,712. Ramon Batts, who had the support of OurIPS, raised $3,550. Nanci Lacy did not file a report.

District 4

Long-time board member Diane Arnold raised $16,696. Challenger Larry Vaughn did not file a report.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect a new fundraising total for Michael O’Connor, who submitted a corrected disclosure.

day one

Three new members join IPS board, Sullivan elected president

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Five IPS board members were sworn in. Left to right: Elizabeth Gore, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Diane Arnold, Venita Moore and Michael O'Connor.

Mary Ann Sullivan will lead the Indianapolis Public School board for the second year in a row, bringing a dose of consistency to a board that begins the term with three new members.

At the first meeting of 2017, the seven-member board swore in three new members, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Elizabeth Gore and Venita Moore, and two returning members, Diane Arnold and Michael O’Connor. In a clear sign of the growing collaboration between the city — which oversees dozens of charter schools — and the school district, the members were sworn in by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

“The decisions you make here profoundly impact not only the students that attend IPS today but … the future of this great city,” Hogsett said. “As our city strives to always better our schools, your individual rules in that effort are critically important to the long-term health and well-being of this city.”

The new board unanimously elected Sullivan as president, O’Connor as vice-president and Gore as secretary. Sullivan, who was also president in 2016, joined the board two years ago as part of a wave of members who support dramatic changes aimed at improving the lowest performing schools.

“I will do my best to maintain the progress that we are making on so many fronts and to keep our sense of urgency,” Sullivan said. “I am very, very confident that this board is ready to provide the leadership needed to transform lives.”

Two of the new board members won spots following a bruising election fight for control of the board between advocates for radically overhauling the district by embracing policies such as partnerships with charter schools and critics who favor more traditional management. The third new member was chosen by the board to replace LaNier Echols, who resigned following the election.

The three newest board members bring a wide range of experience to the board. Here’s a little about each:

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops is the most mysterious new board member because she was chosen by the board to fill a vacancy, rather than going through the election process. She represents District 5, which covers the northwest section of IPS. Although her positions on many of the biggest issues facing the district are not clearly fleshed out, her personal background gives her a unique perspective on many of the issues facing IPS families. A first-generation Mexican American and fluent Spanish speaker, Hoops is the only Latina board member. She also is the only current parent on the board, with a son enrolled at Center for Inquiry School 27. Her son has special needs, and she said her work advocating for his education renewed her commitment to ensuring educational access.

Elizabeth Gore defeated Sam Odle for an at-large seat representing the entire district. Although she is newly elected, this is not her first time on the board. Gore served a term on the board before losing a reelection bid in 2012, when a wave of critics of former-superintendent Eugene White captured control. In her bid for reelection, Gore was not backed by school-reform supporters or the organized opposition, and her victory was something of a surprise. She is a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School and her three children graduated from Arsenal Technical High School, where she led the parent teacher association.

Venita Moore won a three-way race to replace former board member Gayle Cosby, a frequent critic of the administration. She represents District 2, which covers the northeast section of IPS. A business consultant with experience running a state agency, Moore was endorsed by pro-reform groups including Stand for Children. But she does not have a significant record of political work on education, so her approach to the school board is still something of an unknown. Moore is also an IPS graduate, and her daughter graduated from Crispus Attucks High School.