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Gov. Pence's education tightrope

Gov. Mike Pence was sworn in during a chilly outdoor ceremony today. The six-term Republican congressman campaigned and won on a platform that emphasized jobs and education, suggesting the next four years could be as interesting for Indiana schools as the last.

Indianapolis Monthly writer Craig Fehrman has a fascinating profile of the new governor that suggests the campaign's focus was set well before Pence hit the campaign trail, not in response to voter sentiment. If that's the case, it would explain why Pence still hasn't acknowledged the voter backlash that sent Tony Bennett packing and made Democrat Glenda Ritz the new superintendent of public instruction. In his brief inaugural remarks today, Pence made a point to endorse school choice.

"There's nothing that ails our schools that can't be fixed by giving parents more choices and teachers more freedom to teach," the governor said.

Indiana's public school teachers would likely tell him they haven't had the freedom to teach in recent years, and those same teachers are the force responsible for defeating Bennett. They aren't likely to be appeased by Pence's repeated reminders that his wife Karen is a teacher and that she thinks Indiana teachers are great.

If Pence can balance the interests of school-choice supporters demanding more and those of teachers weary of relentless demands, he will have accomplished a great feat.

His first steps are not promising, however. He quickly found place in his administration for at least two of Bennett's top staffers, Heather Neal and Andrew Kossack, the latter of whom will serve as the governor's education and workforce policy director. Neal will serve as legislative director. If it appears that Bennett's work is being continued from the governor's office, there will inevitably be a backlash from a public education community showing no signs of backing off from its November victory.

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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