The outlook for K-12 education might be a bit murky as educators across the state wait for new state education leader Glenda Ritz to set her agenda.
Ritz, a former teacher and school librarian at Washington Township Schools in Indianapolis, entered politics for the first time when she launched a grassroots campaign to beat Republican Indiana superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett in November. Bennett, who took the job as Florida education commissioner, has become known across the nation for his education reform, including state-mandated teacher/administrator evaluations, controversial changes to the state's teacher licensing rules and school vouchers.
Merrillville Superintendent Tony Lux said the future is precarious as educators try to get a handle on everything that is going on in this legislative session.
"On the one hand, legislators talk about education being a priority and full-day, fully funding kindergarten being a priority and a 1 percent increase in education for 2014," Lux said. "Then, they (legislators) turn around and propose expanding vouchers and state funding to students already in private schools which is a totally new expense. Where does the money come from? I'd say all of that makes the future very precarious."
Over the last couple of years, legislators have cut $600 million from K-12 education, with no apparent intention of replacing that money even though the state has a surplus, Lux said.
Lux also said there has been talk about expanding charters but charter schools have been promoted to the public as some kind of "magic alternative" to traditional public schools, but it's based on a false notion that any alternative is better.
Added Ryan Ridgley, Munster Middle School teacher and president of the Munster Teachers Association, "I think Glenda Ritz is in for an uphill battle and that has already started to show."
Ridgley said the politicians are showing that its all about politics and not what is best for children.
"I believe the status of K-12 education right now is very much up in the air. Are there schools that are struggling, yes. Are the struggles only being caused by the teachers and their unions, most definitely not," Ridgley said. "Politicians and even the public want a reason and specific people to blame as to why education in the U.S. is behind some other countries. We have politicians who are letting politics get in the way of quality education. In order to move forward, we need to have everyone proactively working to improve the system, not looking for ways to expand their own agendas. The last four years have shown that Indiana has cared more about political agendas in education than actually doing what is best for education."