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.


Who will be advising Indiana’s next state superintendent? Not the charter advocates some expected

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Jennifer McCormick

Indiana’s next state superintendent Jennifer McCormick today announced the team of 17 educators and policymakers who will help her prepare to take office in early January — and not one of them is a major player in Indiana’s charter school or voucher scene.

That matters because for much of McCormick’s campaign, critics charged that she would be no different from her Republican predecessors who pushed sweeping changes in the state, shifting resources away from traditional district schools toward charter schools and vouchers for private school tuition.

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.

McCormick insisted throughout her campaign that she’s not like Tony Bennett, the controversial former Republican superintendent, but those claims were largely dismissed by the state’s staunchest advocates for traditional public schools.

Perhaps until now.

“I am excited and honored to work with such a dynamic and diverse group,” McCormick, said in a statement as she announced her transition team. “The team’s commitment to Hoosier students will drive critical decision-making which will ultimately impact Indiana’s education system and ensure Indiana has one of the best Departments of Education in the nation.”

McCormick’s team includes one Republican lawmaker, several public school administrators, two university professors and a testing expert. Also on the list are community and business leaders as well as educators who work in preschools and with special needs children, among others.

The Institute for Quality Education, a school choice advocacy group that strongly backed McCormick’s campaign, will not have any direct representation on the team.

McCormick’s victory over incumbent Democrat Glenda Ritz was a surprise to many on Election Night. The Yorktown superintendent’s campaign focused on her strengths as an educator and leader following a decades-long career as teacher, principal and administrator.

But she has offered few insights about how she will govern, especially since her policy positions are fairly moderate.

While she’s likely to get along better with Republican lawmakers than Ritz, who spent much of the last four years clashing with the GOP, she’s expressed concerns about some major Republican-led initiatives over the past few years, most notably taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools that divert money from public schools.

The transition team is her first major act as superintendent-elect, offering Hoosiers their first look at her most important priorities.

Notably missing from the list is anyone from Indianapolis Public Schools — a detail that one school advocate called “unfortunate.”

“What Indianapolis has done is a national model, and so not to have that represented on the transition team seems like an omission,” said David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, a pro-charter school Indianapolis-based nonprofit. “IPS right now is also not just at the forefront of the state, but really at the forefront nationally in its work to create innovation network schools, and districts around Indiana would benefit from that perspective.”

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said she had been looking forward to seeing who McCormick would pick to assist her since the two talked last week.

“My first reaction was, ‘Wow, this is a really mixed bag of people,’” Meredith said. “I’m glad that she is being really thoughtful in her selections.”

Here’s the full team:

  • Brad Balch: Professor and Dean Emeritus, Indiana State University, Department of Educational Leadership
  • Todd Bess: Executive Director, Indiana Association of School Principals
  • Wes Bruce: Education and assessment consultant who has spent many years with the Indiana Department of Education
  • Jeff Butts: President-Elect, Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, current superintendent of Wayne Township.
  • Rep. Tony Cook: State Representative, Indiana House of Representatives – District 32, vice chairman of the House Education Committee
  • Denny Costerison: Executive Director, Indiana Association of School Business Officials
  • Scot Croner: Superintendent, Blackford County Schools
  • Steve Edwards (Transition Team Chair): Retired Superintendent and Education Consultant, Administrator Assistance
  • Nancy Holsapple: Executive Director, Old National Trail Special Services Inter-Local
  • David Holt: Chief Financial Officer, MSD Warren Township
  • Lee Ann Kwiatkowski: Member, State Board of Education, assistant superintendent of Warren Township
  • Micah Maxwell: Executive Director, Boys & Girls Club of Muncie
  • Hardy Murphy: Executive Director, Indiana Urban Schools Association and Clinical Professor of Education, IUPUI, IU School of Education
  • Kathryn Raasch: Principal, Wayne Township Preschool
  • Terry Spradlin: Director of Community and Governmental Relations, Education Networks of America
  • Lisa Tanselle: General Counsel, Indiana School Boards Association
  • Kelly Wittman: Executive Principal, Max S. Hayes Career & Technical High School, a public school in Cleveland, Ohio.

changing of the guard

Will Indiana Republicans now move to make the state superintendent job appointed?

Now that a Republican is heading into the state superintendent office in January, Indiana lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — might start singing a different tune about the powers of that office.

The office has been the subject of dispute since 2012 when Democrat Glenda Ritz defeated Republican Tony Bennett in a surprise upset, becoming the only Democrat elected to statewide office.

Since then, as Ritz clashed repeatedly with Gov. Mike Pence and other GOP lawmakers,  Republicans have openly questioned the role of Indiana’s state superintendent, suggesting the job should have less power and should be appointed by the governor rather than elected.

During Ritz’s superintendency, GOP lawmakers passed a bill giving the Indiana State Board of Education the right to choose its own leader rather than having the superintendent automatically assigned as board chair.

But in the weeks since Republican Jennifer McCormick blocked Ritz’s re-election bid, the GOP resolve to limit the state superintendent’s powers seems to have diminished.

There might also be changes on the other side of the aisle, where Democrats signaled their support for a strong superintendent could waver.

At Tuesday’s legislative Organization Day, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he’s advocated for reducing the superintendent’s power “for 30 years” but that he didn’t think he’ll make that a priority for the next legislative session beginning in January.

“I want to have a discussion with the superintendent-elect,” he said. “It’s probably not an issue for this session. Perhaps next.”

For Democrats who were in office when Indiana had Democratic governors, the question of appointing the state superintendent is a sticky one. Back then, Indiana had a Republican state superintendent and many Democrats argued the governor should appoint that position in order to have consistency in education policymaking.

But with Ritz in the role and constantly crossing swords with Pence, Democrats defended her against calls to strip power from her office.

Democratic House leader Scott Pelath of Michigan City said that’s why big changes, like taking away voters’ option to choose the state superintendent, shouldn’t be made lightly.

“On balance I think people like more choices rather than fewer at the ballot box,” he said. “I think we’ve had a system that has more or less functioned over a period of time. We shouldn’t change it without a great deal of hesitation.”

Even so, Pelath said he wasn’t necessarily opposed to making the superintendent job appointed.

“I have an open mind,” he said. “I could be convinced either way.”

With McCormick in and Ritz out, there could be a lot of second guessing on key questions about her role and her power.

Bosma was among a majority of Republicans who successfully backed a bill to change that longstanding rule, instead allowing the 11 board members to pick their own leader. Democrats opposed the change, arguing that it was a blatant attempt to take power away from the superintendent.

After fighting to give the board the option to choose someone besides the state superintendent as chair] — a right that kicks in for the first time next year —  Bosma declined to say whether he thinks the board members should simply select McCormick for the role. “I have not made a determination on that,” he said.

Pelath said he still thinks the state superintendent should chair the board, even if it’s McCormick.

“That’s one you can’t have both ways,” he said. “I support the way that it was before the attacks on Superintendent Ritz and the stripping of her abilities. If we’re going to have a state superintendent this person should be empowered to do something about education.”

Bosma said he wants to let the changes the legislature made to the state board play out.

“I think the system we put into place has worked,” he said. “Is it perfect? Probably not. We’ll let the new superintendent get her legs under herself first and get the Department of Education back on track, because I’m not sure it is right now, and let the dust settle.”