Election 2016

McCormick’s plan for Indiana schools diverges from some Republican priorities

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Jennifer McCormick speaks during a 2016 campaign event.

Republicans who dislike Democratic state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and have invested all their hopes that Yorktown Superintendent Jennifer McCormick will defeat her in November might be in for a few surprises.

McCormick, the Republican candidate for Indiana schools chief, unveiled her long-promised plans for Indiana’s education system today, and it charts a somewhat different course than the roadmap her allies in the statehouse have followed for several years.

In fact, McCormick actually favors some of Ritz’s approaches to change course from Republican plans, like how to overhaul A-F grades for schools and add supports for teachers.

McCormick said she did back many of the initiatives put in place by Indiana’s Republican-led legislature over the past eight years, such as tougher requirements for teacher evaluations.

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.

But, she said, “as a state, we’ve done a pretty nice job of beating up on the (teaching) profession.”

The criticism of teachers, she said, has gone too far.

“(Teachers have) heard the message loud and clear from several areas that we’re not getting the job done,” McCormick said. “And that gets exhausting for people.”

McCormick’s plan calls for changes to the state’s teacher pay system, which was overhauled in 2011 to tie pay more strongly to evaluation results and in some cases led to systems that favored one-time bonuses based on performance.

McCormick said she wants a teacher pay system that depends less heavily on evaluation results and can more easily factor in other teacher accomplishments, like how many years experience they have or whether they have earned advanced degrees. Those factors were explicitly removed from the evaluation system by the Republican-led legislature in 2011.

McCormick questioned whether bonuses really acted as incentives for teachers to push students toward better performance and encouraged good teachers to stay in the profession. Bonuses teachers get for high evaluations don’t amount to much money at all — maybe $100, she said.

“Is that program working the way it was intended to work?” McCormick said. “Given what the amounts are right now, it becomes very difficult (to make that attractive to teachers).”

On testing and A-F grades, McCormick reiterated her earlier calls to shorten state tests and change the state’s school rating system so it does not just produce a single A-F grade, but rather mimics a student “report card” by including more information.

Some of those ideas overlap with proposals from Ritz that have failed to get traction with lawmakers. But McCormick argued she would be better at building relationships and communicating with the legislature and other education policymakers because of her experience as a school and district administrator.

One of McCormick’s biggest pledges was to push for another overhaul of the state school funding system to re-examine how aid for poor children is calculated.

In 2015, the legislature changed that calculation so it is now based on how many students in a school qualify for welfare, food stamps or are in foster care. In the past, the state gauged how many poor children each district had by counting the number who qualified for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.

McCormick was critical of that change for the resources it’s taken from some schools. Coupled with other changes to the state’s base tuition amount, it meant some districts saw far less aid, particularly those with students who needed it most like Indianapolis Public Schools and districts in Gary and East Chicago.

“We need to make sure that our schools are funded in an equitable and adequate fashion,” McCormick said. “It’s not just about the dollar-to-dollar that follows the students. We need to look at the formula with the complexity index issues.”

McCormick also responded to comments made earlier this week by Ritz and John Gregg, the Democratic candidate for governor, that school choice programs, particularly private school tuition vouchers, exacerbated school segregation.

McCormick said trying to convince Indiana lawmakers to move off the well-worn path of furthering school choice was futile.

“When you get into the funding of (vouchers) … our legislators have made the decision that that’s the route they’re going,” McCormick said. “It’s not the state superintendent who’s going to expand that or stop that.”

Chalkbeat reported Tuesday that while Indiana’s voucher program doesn’t appear to increase segregation in private schools, school choice policies, especially those without parameters that would ensure they help schools diversify, can make school segregation worse.

McCormick has previously said she supports school choice, but she’s also said she wouldn’t support some more extreme measures that some argue operate at the expense of public schools, such as a controversial voucher program some lawmakers have expressed interest in known as “education savings accounts.” Indiana doesn’t yet have such a program.

“As a public schools superintendent I understand that you have one bucket of money, and I understand that what goes in and what goes out drives a lot of decisions,” she said. “Anything that impacts those K-12 dollars we need to be smart about.”

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:


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.