Election 2016

Glenda Ritz defeated by her Republican challenger in a big Election night upset

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Jennifer McCormick right after the 2016 race for Indiana state superintendent was called in her favor.

For the second time in four years, a political newcomer has unexpectedly triumphed over the incumbent in the race for Indiana state superintendent.

Republican Jennifer McCormick took an early lead over incumbent Democrat Glenda Ritz and maintained it throughout the night, ending at about 10 p.m. Tuesday when the race was called with a 7 percentage point victory over Ritz. McCormick said her leadership experience helped her pull off the win.

“People understood that leadership was needed, that partnerships were a problem in Indiana,” McCormick said. “They understand the assessment piece is a mess. So people understood. They heard our message and obviously agreed with it tonight. But it also helped too we had a very successful night for the whole Republican ticket.”

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, who led most of the polls in a race that wasn’t surveyed often, was expected by her supporters, and even some critics, to carry the race again as she did in 2012 when she unseated Tony Bennett, a shocking result at the time.

Ritz burst on Indiana’s political scene by beating Bennett, who had become a Republican darling for pushing hard for test-based accountability and school choice. Ritz was an unknown Democrat in a Republican state who was badly outspent but won anyway.

Her supporters cheered her win, hoping it was the start of a movement, fueled by a backlash against a decade-long expansion of the use of standardized testing to measure students and schools.

She spent most of her four-year term fighting an all-out battle against a Republican governor and Republican-dominated legislature to push back on their favored education reforms. She had few policy wins. She was cheered by deeply loyal supporters, especially educators, but the movement failed to materialize. There were no key electoral victories during her term in office to give her more Democratic allies.

This time, the Democratic darling lost to an unknown Republican challenger who she easily outspent. As she exits the political stage, she leaves the Democrats no key elected officials to stand against Republican education priorities. With a Republican governor, Republican-dominated legislature and a Republican state superintendent, Indiana is solid red when it comes to education policy.

Glenda Ritz address Democrat supporters as she concedes the race for Indiana superintendent on Tuesday night.
PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Glenda Ritz address Democrat supporters as she concedes the race for Indiana superintendent on Tuesday night.

Tuesday night, Ritz was composed when she addressed supporters at the Indiana Democratic Party’s election night event. She quickly left the stage after speaking, but first implored Hoosiers to stay involved in order to improve Indiana education.

“There is work to do to continue building an education system of equity and high quality,” Ritz said. “It is all about meeting the needs of our children … students and families … you must be part of the conversation. Be a loud voice at the Statehouse.”

McCormick, a longtime educator and superintendent from Yorktown, was largely unknown to voters before she announced her candidacy this year. She won with about 54 percent of the vote when the race was called.

Joining her in statewide office will be Republican Governor-elect Eric Holcomb, who won his first elective office. Hoosiers will have to get to know both of them, as neither has weighed in substantially on Indiana’s education policy debates. With one party dominating the state’s political jobs that manage the state’s education policy, a key question is whether the heated debates of the past four years will subside. The governor’s race was called around 9 p.m. Tuesday night, with Holcomb leading Gregg with 51.8 percent of the vote vs. Gregg’s 45 percent.

Governor-Elect Eric Holcomb speaks to Republican supporters at an Election night event.
PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Governor-Elect Eric Holcomb speaks to Republican supporters at an Election night event.

During the race, McCormick gave fewer details about her policy plans than Ritz, who made bold promises to replace the state ISTEP exam with a very different sort of test and to expand preschool to make it available to all four-year-olds. Her vision on testing and preschool now seems very unlikely to be adopted.

There were several areas of agreement between Ritz and McCormick. She largely agreed with Ritz on the need for an A-F grade overhaul, to add more school funding for high poverty schools and offer more support and pay for teachers.

Among their biggest differences was private school tuition vouchers. McCormick said she supports giving the power of parents to choose the best school for their children, but she’s not interested in expanding programs that divert money from public schools. Ritz was a consistent critic of the voucher program.

McCormick said she would be in favor of adopting the SAT, or something like it, for high school students and keeping a simple, ISTEP-like test for elementary and middle school students. Ritz wanted to overhaul ISTEP so it could be given in smaller tests throughout the school year.

Preschool will likely be a hot topic during this year’s legislative session. Ritz has campaigned strongly for a “universal” preschool plan for all Indiana four year-olds, funded with what she anticipates would be $150 million per year from the state’s budget, plus federal and private grants, McCormick has called for a more conservative approach — at least at first.

She says the state should prioritize students who are struggling or from low-income families rather than offer free preschool to everyone, even wealthy families.

But it’s still not clear what kind of relationship McCormick will have with lawmakers.

Although her policies don’t always line up with the priorities of Republican legislative leaders, she will be from the same party, which could smooth working relationships.

With Holcomb at the helm, that also means the Indiana State Board of Education will likely stay on a similar track as the current board — appointed by Pence — favorable to school choice and so far unmoved by some of Ritz’s bolder proposals.

Although this state board has seen less tension since it was reorganized in 2015, Ritz and board members have still butted heads about communication and the availability of data and other materials related to school performance and turnaround.

McCormick and Holcomb will officially be sworn into office in January. To see our live blog of yesterday’s election and results from state and local races, go here.

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.