With Trump Quiet on Education, Pence’s Record Stands In

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump hasn’t said very much about education during his campaign – just that he is “a tremendous believer” in education and that Common Core should be ended, calling the standards “an absolute disaster.” But running mate Governor Mike Pence of Indiana has made education a top priority during his time in office, and Kate Zernike, reporting for The New York Times, says his strong opinions on education have made for much contention.

Pence was one of only two dozen Republicans who voted against the No Child Left Behind Act, a 2001 initiative of President George W. Bush that defined the decade’s education policy. Pence was worried about too much federal overreach into what formerly had been states’ and local schools’ purviews.

When Pence took office in 2013, Indiana was just ending two years of legislation to establish school vouchers and increase the charter school presence in the state. But Pence wanted more.

“There was this idea that people had education reform fatigue,” said Tony Bennett, the former state superintendent for public instruction. “I admired the fact that Mike didn’t buy that on this issue.”

State superintendents are elected in Indiana, so in 2012 Bennett was supplanted by Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, with whom Pence has experienced a lack of cooperation – so much so that at one point, Pence took money from the state to set up what might be called a shadow department of education. Pence later reversed this action.

Gov. Pence was accused of spending too much time on political matters and not enough on education policy concerns.

Pence is pro-charter schools and school vouchers, but he also has a focus on accountability. In Indiana, he pushed for shutting charters that were performing poorly. The state has one of the largest voucher programs in the nation, with over 32,000 students receiving aid packages.

Joy Pullman of the Heartland Institute said the voucher program in Indiana was “among the highest regulated in the country,” even requiring private schools to administer state tests. For this reason, a third of the state’s private schools do not participate in the program.

“What’s the point of school choice if the choice schools have to do many of the same things public schools do?” she asked.

Pence discarded the Common Core standards and called for the state to come up with its own standards. But the new curriculum looked very much like standards under Common Core. Pence hired a company to create a new test for Indiana, but disliked that it was too lengthy.

Indiana was one of the few states that did not have a publicly funded preschool program for poverty-level children. Pence was able to convince Republican leaders in the legislature to start one.

“It’s safe to say that had it not been for his strong leadership, we wouldn’t have had the pilot preschool program we have now,” said David Harris, the founder of the Mind Trust, which helps incubate charter and other new schools in Indiana.

The Democrats are seizing on Pence’s education record. Hillary Clinton told a rally of the American Federation of Teachers in Minneapolis on Monday that Pence was:

“… one of the most hostile politicians in America when it comes to public education.”

But Allysia Finley of The Wall Street Journal points out that the battles waged by Pence are an example of his record as a fighter. She believes they also show that conservative policies can assist low- and middle-income kids.

Still, Clinton accused Gov. Pence of undermining the rights of workers, women, immigrants, and the LGBT community.

The GOP often talks about eliminating the Education Department, but Clinton says that although the department does not get everything right, it does provide strong support for critical programs.

From pre-K to Pell Grants and resources for low-income students, pupils with disabilities, and English-Language Learners, getting rid of the department would leave some of the country’s most vulnerable children out in the cold, writes Kimberly Hefling for Politico.

Democratic leaders made several meaningful changes to the party platform last week, including giving support to parents who choose to opt their kids out of standardized tests. Also, the new language toned down some of the reform discourse that was in an earlier draft of the platform.

The platform is against the use of test scores to evaluate administration and teachers. As for charter schools, the platform says they must “accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners,” and must not take the place of  public schools or make traditional public schools unstable, according to The American Prospect’s Rachel M. Cohen.