Preschool for all?

Ritz and McCormick agree on Indiana’s need for more preschool — not on how much to spend

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum
Lisa Skinner, the director of Day Early Learning at Eastern Star Church, plays with blocks and shapes with a preschooler.

Most politicians and policymakers in Indiana agree that more kids should have access to good preschools — they just don’t agree on how to fund it.

So it goes for the the two candidates for state superintendent. Both Democrat incumbent Glenda Ritz and Republican Jennifer McCormick support making preschool available to more kids, but differ on how that should happen.

Ritz has campaigned strongly for a “universal” preschool plan, funded with what she anticipates would be $150 million per year from the state’s budget, plus federal and private grants.

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READ: Find more on this year’s races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.

The ambitious program would create more high-quality programs across the state as well as more seats in those programs. Ritz says the plan would ensure that students with the highest needs are ready for kindergarten and that more kids overall are able to benefit from preschool.

“The department will make high quality pre-K available within the boundaries of every school corporation within the state of Indiana by 2020,” Ritz said at a press conference earlier this year. “The funds are there if the political will exists.”

McCormick, who is the superintendent of Yorktown schools near Muncie, takes a more conservative stance when it comes to funding and thinks the state should prioritize students who are struggling or from low-income families rather than offer pre-K to all Indiana four-year-olds.

“I’m just hoping (preschool funding) doesn’t come out of those K-12 monies,” she said. “I’m glad the conversation is happening, but I think we are going to have to be careful on how is that funded, what are those impacts on the local levels, such as facilities and partnerships that are already in those area schools with preschool programs. What data is out there to say are we getting the best bang for our buck?”

McCormick’s approach adheres more closely to what Indiana Republican leaders in the legislature have said they would support heading into the 2017 session. So far, lawmakers, such as Rep. Bob Behning and House Speaker Brian Bosma, both Indianapolis Republicans, have indicated interest in expanding the state’s current preschool pilot program, but have come out against a broader, more expensive plan like Ritz’s.

However, McCormick said at a recent debate in Fort Wayne that eventually she wants to have a universal access program by 2020, the same end-goal as Ritz.

The current pilot program awards preschool scholarships to needy families using a lottery. The program is funded by the state and is supplemented in Indianapolis by a separate program that uses money from the city, businesses and private foundations. Both programs are in high demand. Fewer than half of the 4,200 poor families in Marion County who applied this year are expected to win preschool scholarships.

The current state program covers preschool for 4-year-olds but McCormick said she thinks Indiana should also create programs for kids who are even younger since many language problems and other issues are easier to address with early intervention.

“Are we being reactive or proactive?” McCormick said. “(We need to) do our homework on the root causes of some of the issues we are seeing.”

Both Ritz and McCormick agree that the state should pursue all opportunities for additional federal funding.

In 2014, Gov. Mike Pence faced heavy criticism for rejecting a grant that could have brought up to $80 million to the state’s preschool efforts. Pence, whose conservative fiscal positions helped land him a spot on Donald Trump’s presidential ticket as his running mate, argued at the time that he was worried that Obama administration had attached too many strings to the money.

He has since reversed course, expressing interest in new federal grants.

“That Gov. Pence did not accept money from the federal government was a huge mistake, which I think at the very end of his term he was starting to rectify,” Ritz said. “But you know, you have two or three years of kids that are never going to be that age again that missed out.”

To learn more about preschool in Indiana, check out these stories:

This story has been updated to reflect new details on McCormick’s stance on universal preschool access.

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.