RICH JAMES: Republicans continue to target Indiana's teachers

2013-11-03T20:15:00Z RICH JAMES: Republicans continue to target Indiana's teachersBy Rich James nwitimes.com
November 03, 2013 8:15 pm  • 

Finally, someone said it.

Finally, someone put in perspective what the Republican coup d’etat of Indiana’s public school system is all about.

And, of course, it was a teacher who said it.

Randi Weingarten, the national president of the American Federation of Teachers, said it at a two-day conference sponsored by Gary Teachers Union Local 4 last week.

“Follow the money,” Weingarten said.

The reference was to former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett changing a low grade given to a charter school whose owner is a top contributor to the Republican Party.

The attack on the state’s public school system began under Bennett and former Gov. Mitch Daniels and continues today under Gov. Mike Pence.

It is a very calculated assault veiled by talk about what’s best for Indiana’s kids. Don’t buy it.

The bottom line is the Bennett/Republican agenda is an effort to grow and benefit charter schools at the expensive of public schools and teachers.

It all started with legislation to decimate the bargaining power of teacher unions. After the Republican-controlled Legislature got done, about all that was left for teachers to negotiate was dessert on the lunch menu.

With teachers virtually powerless, Bennett and company had a free hand in imposing their own agenda on the schools.

And the teachers, who traditionally have voted Democratic in statewide elections, no longer would have a unified voice.

At least that’s what Republicans thought.

So, in 2012, with Republicans controlling both houses of the Legislature, Pence a virtual lock for governor and Bennett cruising toward a second term, the assault on education was taking on new meaning.

And then Glenda Ritz came along and spoiled the party. She beat Bennett.

Rather than admit defeat, Republicans went to Plan B to render Ritz powerless.

The Pence-appointed State Board of Education has attempted to usurp the power of Ritz and her Department of Education. In large part it is working.

Pence says he wants to work with Ritz, but his Board of Education keeps acting to the contrary.

Another Republican ploy has been the grading of schools. That seems to be little more than an effort to redline poorer schools with the intent that parents will move their children to Republican-led charter schools where there is GOP money and no teacher unions.

So abhorrent is the attack on Ritz and traditional education that there are those who are floating her name for governor in 2016 when Pence is expected to seek a second term.

I don’t know that Ritz could win. But given the way it is going, she well could be the hallmark of the Democratic governor candidate's campaign.

The Republicans continue to enrage the largest organized group in the state – teachers.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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