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Pence sees no rebuke in loss of education superintendent

IndianGovernor-elect Mike Pence speaks news conference Statehouse Wednesday Nov. 7 2012 Indianapolis. Gov. Mitch Daniels right Lt. Gov.--elect Sue Ellspermann

Indiana Governor-elect Mike Pence speaks at a news conference at the Statehouse Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Indianapolis. Gov. Mitch Daniels, right, Lt. Gov.--elect Sue Ellspermann, left, and Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman listen as Pence speaks. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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Updated: December 9, 2012 7:53PM



INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana voters endorsed a conservative education agenda by strengthening Republicans’ hold on the Legislature, governor-elect Mike Pence said Wednesday, even though the state education chief who pushed the initial overhaul was ousted.

Pence tried to stick to addressing the economy during a joint news conference in Gov. Mitch Daniels’ office regarding the gubernatorial transition, but the questions circled back to Democrat Glenda Ritz’s victory Tuesday over incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.

Ritz promised to roll back the education agenda that Daniels and Bennett pushed through the Legislature in 2011, which includes the nation’s largest private school voucher program and linking teachers’ pay to student test scores. Ritz got more votes in Tuesday’s election than Pence did, according to unofficial returns posted on the Indiana secretary of state’s website.

Pence, however, didn’t see Ritz’s win as a referendum on the education overhaul.

“We ran on a platform of continuing a bold agenda of education reform ... and we’ve been given the opportunity to lead based on those ideas,” Pence said.

Ritz — who claimed she was supported by Democrats, Republicans and tea parties — disagreed Wednesday afternoon.

“I don’t think that’s what the voters said at all,” she said. “I think they spoke very clearly about the direction they want education to head.”

Indiana State Teachers Association President Nate Schnellenberger said Pence was missing the point.

“I think that everybody understands that ... the result of this election means that Hoosier voters, Hoosier taxpayers, believe that the so-called education reforms were too radical and too fast-paced,” Schnellenberger said. “I’m not saying that the reforms need to be abolished, but that they need to be tweaked and made more reasonable and more sensible.”

Pence said he was disappointed that Bennett lost, but would be willing to work with Ritz “to look for areas of common purpose.”

When it comes to education policy, though, “I’m pretty sure the buck stops right over there,” Pence said, pointing at the governor’s desk.

“I’m sure we’ll be finding our common ground,” Ritz said in a telephone interview. She said she knew Pence and legislators genuinely cared about education.

But Ritz made it clear she intends to try to trim back some of the changes made by Bennett, including a set of math and language standards that she thinks are weaker than Indiana’s previous standards. She also said the new standards were imposed without consulting teachers or parents.

Suellen Reed, a Republican who served as state superintendent for 16 years with governors from both parties, said she believed voters were tired of “the contentious nature of the conversation that’s been going on” and she believed Ritz could speak for educators whose voices had been muffled.

In most states, the governor appoints the state education chief, Daniels said, adding that both parties in Indiana have favored such a change in the past. Pence said he had not formed an opinion on whether the education job should be elected or appointed.

“This is too important an office to not be elected,” Ritz said. “So I hope that’s not going to be a path that anyone takes.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, supports appointing the position, but conceded Wednesday that such a move “probably took a little bit of a hit on the chin with yesterday’s results.”

Despite the repeated questioning on education, Pence steered the topic back to his plans for the economy, including a 10 percent cut in the personal income tax rate that he said would help both individuals and small businesses.

Pence said Indiana residents have become accustomed to a “culture of excellence” under Daniels, and he planned to continue and build on that.



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