An ugly presidential election has a lot of Hoosiers eager for the end of the 2016 campaign season. But across Indiana, there are interesting and competitive local races, and their outcomes can have a big impact on education in the state. When the dust settles, there may be a lot of questions to answer about Indiana’s future.
Consider a few:
Will there be a Democratic resurgence?
Just last year, the Indianapolis mayor’s office flipped from Republican to Democrat. Could 2017 begin with Democrats also serving as governor, state superintendent and holding both U.S. Senate seats? That’s what some recent polls have suggested is a possibility. If that happens, is it a short-term trend or the beginning of a shift of the political pendulum back from recent years in which Republicans held nearly every important statewide office and boasted super majorities in both the Indiana House and Senate? Or if the results go the other way in a year when the Democrats have a big opportunity to break through, what will be the effect on political decision-making around education for a party that failed to capitalize on such an opportunity?
How will the post-Pence Republican Party be defined?
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Under former Gov. Mitch Daniels, Indiana Republicans were pragmatic and task-oriented. Gov. Mike Pence took the party down a more ideological path. Since this year’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, Eric Holcomb, worked for both Daniels and Pence, it’s not clear which of his former bosses he would emulate if elected. If he loses, who will become the leader of the party and which side of the party will they favor? Will a new direction include any changes to the education reform push of the last 12 years?
Would a re-elected Glenda Ritz be a bigger political force?
For four years, Republicans have been able to reassure themselves that Ritz was a fluke. The GOP argued that Ritz’s surprise 2012 win was about unhappiness with her predecessor Tony Bennett, who was pushed a series of big changes toward more test-based accountability and school choice, not necessarily about voters’ faith in Ritz as a leader. Republicans have treated her as someone who wasn’t much of a threat to repeat the feat in 2016 in this reliably red state. But if she wins again this year, Ritz takes would that argument away. How would both sides react? Would Republicans change their posture toward her, or would Ritz feel emboldened to push harder to move the state away from Bennett’s favored reforms?
Will any challengers break through and wins seats on the Indianapolis Public School Board?
The current school board majority is on a big winning streak. The last two elections have been swept by candidates who at least started out with a shared idea of how the district should change and won support from contributors with deep pockets. Most members of the current board have backed a controversial push for innovation schools, which are public schools turned over to private managers that, unlike charter schools, have officially remained a part of the district. But the thing about politics is it’s hard to sustain any movement, and the third election is a key test. Will the winning streak continue? What will this mean for the future of reforms backed by Superintendent Lewis Ferebee?