The Indiana Senate District 5 race is, in part, a referendum on the rapid pace of education reform in Indiana.
Democrat Deb Porter, a Portage music teacher, is running against Republican Ed Charbonneau, the incumbent. Among Charbonneau's legislative tasks was to lead a study commission focused on the "very, very complicated" — as Charbonneau aptly describes it — school funding formula.
"What we're going through in education, in my mind, is what we went through 30 years ago in the steel industry," Charbonneau said. "We had to go through a cultural change, a total change in our way of thinking."
That change, for education, has meant the rise of charter schools, vouchers that pay for private school tuition under certain circumstances and increased accountability.
Porter talked of teachers' activism on these issues. "We flooded the switchboard many times," and in 2011, teachers went to the Statehouse en masse to object to some of the reforms.
"The voucher program needs to end, in my opinion," because religious schools might not teach the same world views as traditional public schools, Porter said.
Charbonneau said he struggled with the idea of school vouchers and charter schools, but became convinced that no one should have a monopoly.
What's next? "I'm hoping that we kind of step back and assess now where we are," Charbonneau said. Porter said she would work to roll back the number of charter schools and to eliminate school vouchers.
Charbonneau's top issue this year is jobs. One idea is to address the personal property tax assessed against business equipment. But Indiana has already done much to become business-friendly.
"We need to continue trying to do the things we're doing," Charbonneau said.
Porter said she wants to make Indiana the place where technology and manufacturing firms want to come. Small businesses must be encouraged, too, she said. "The big companies, they get tax breaks, and they have to make up that money somewhere, so it often falls on small business," Porter said.
Charbonneau has been a staunch supporter of good government. He is not bound by party label and reaches across the aisle to accomplish what needs to be done.
We endorse Charbonneau.