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A different Statehouse tune

What a difference an election makes. Two years ago, Indiana Republicans were ready to rush head-long into Gov. Mitch Daniels' education agenda. Now, after Democrat Glenda Ritz won election with more votes than their own candidate for governor, they seem to be taking a more cautious approach.

"While lawmakers will focus on passing a fiscally responsible budget, we'll also discuss a number of important policy initiatives designed to better the lives of taxpayers, homeowners, students, veterans and teachers in Indiana," said Senate President Pro Tem David Long in a news release this week. "If Indiana wants to build on one of the most business friendly environments in the country, we must continue to support low-tax, pro-growth policies that will attract high-wage jobs toIndiana."

He went on to identify additional priorities for the upcoming session: "Protecting Hoosier children by improving Indiana's Department of Child Services, continuing to improve our schools and support our teachers and reforming Indiana's criminal penalties."

That's a stark departure from the 2011 session preview, in which the GOP leadership focused on its education agenda. No mention of supporting teachers in that news release.

Instead, it expressed support for "Daniels' call to identify and reward successful teachers and principals; instill accountability and provide assistance for turning around poor performing schools; and allow more education options for families trapped by failing schools."

Of course, that turned out to be vouchers for students to leave any public school – not just failing schools; teacher salaries tied to standardized test scores; letter grades for schools (what a New York Times contributor calls "shorthand for real estate agents") ; and vast expansion of unproven charter schools.

"Determining exactly how Indiana gets there will require much homework by lawmakers and much input from the public," Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, said at the time.

Very little homework was done by legislators before the education agenda was approved and the input offered by the public was soundly ignored. One Senate education leader recently told me he doesn't read "long" emails, like the one a northeast Indiana superintendent sent in protesting the flawed A-F grading formula.

The Nov. 6 election seems to have caught the lawmakers' attention, however – that plus the thousands of emails they have received from angry educators and parents. A broad coalition of public education supporters has formed to continue reminding lawmakers about the need to support public schools. A petition demanding Gov.-elect Mike Pence and lawmakers honor Glenda Ritz's election is nearing 10,000 signatures.

Ritz, by the way, will be the guest of WBOI's Midday Matters news review edition at noon this Monday, Nov. 26. Listen online at www.nipr.fm or find the northeast Indiana public radio station at 89.1 FM. Listeners can submit a question at (260) 452-1185 or through the Midday Matters Facebook page.

I'll post the podcast when it's available.

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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