Friday, November 9, 2012

Indiana Education Reform: Who Got a Mandate?

The 2012 election is now a few days behind us.  What's left now is just trying to decipher what it all means.  Sometimes, it's easier to tell what voters want.  Other times, though, the voters send confusing messages with their decisions at the polls.

When it comes to education reform in Indiana, voters sent the more confusing message.

First, they elected a new Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Many in the political circles around the state were surprised by the outcome of this one.  Incumbent Tony Bennett spent well over a million dollars on the race, and was supposed to win without much trouble.  Glenda Ritz seemed to be unheard of by most as they headed into election day.

She won, though, with big numbers.  Quite an upset.  And when that happens, you have to accept that it is a clear message and mandate to other politicians: we support what she stands for...make it happen.

But then something else happened.  The Republican majority in the General Assembly, the very ones that put the recent education reform and voucher program in place, grew.  And they grew a lot.  The voters of Indiana gave the GOP a super-majority in both houses of the General Assembly, and they gave them a Republican governor, too.

Basically, Indiana voters told the GOP, "Here's our State.  We trust you.  Do with it what you wish."  And when that happens, you have to accept that it is a clear message and mandate to other politicians.

The problem we're faced with, though, is the voters mandates are in conflict with each other.  The goals of the new Democrat Superintendent of Public Instruction and the goals of the super-majority General Assembly are not going to be the same.

Of course, both sides are claiming their mandate is the superior one.  Governor Mitch Daniels and Governor-Elect Mike Pence announced that the election of Ritz does not mean that there will be any rollback of the voucher programs.

Democrats are crying foul, saying Ritz's huge numbers mean that, in fact, it is their mandate which should take the lead.  Jon Easter of Indy Democrat Blog titled a post on the issue, "Indiana GOP Leaders Losing Ever-loving Mind??"

So what should our politicians do?  That thing which all politicians should do: compromise.  The GOP should allow Glenda Ritz to do her job in the way she best sees fit, in accordance with the laws in place when she took office.  Ritz should accept that, and do the best job that she can with what she has to work with.

What shouldn't our politicians do?  Try to out-do the other side and create a war.  The GOP should wait until after the 2014 elections (and the mandates they may bring) before they attempt to expand any of the reforms they have put in place.  Glenda Ritz shouldn't put a fight up against the General Assembly asking for the reforms of the last few years to be rolled back.

For all intents and purposes, both sides should agree to not make any major changes for now.

Don't believe that is what is going to occur, though.  Political parties love to ram through legislation when they have no opposition to fear.  Expect the GOP to spend the next two years doing whatever they want to whoever they want.

That's what the voters said to do, I guess.  But if they use that authority to actually lower the powers of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and step all over another mandate the voters gave at the same time, don't expect the Democrats to be quiet about it.  Tread lightly, Republicans, or you'll see your new found powers evaporate just as quickly as you obtained them.

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