Of all the outcomes from this November's elections, none proved to be a bigger shock to education reform advocates than the defeat of Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. Bennett lost his bid for re-election to Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz, a Washington Township library science media specialist.
This week, while speaking at the meeting of the Foundation for Excellence in Education – a group focused on education reform founded by former Florida governor Jeb Bush – Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels claimed that the surprise loss was achieved through dirty politics by the unions opposed to Bennett's reform ideas.
During his speech, Daniels accused teachers of using public resources for campaigning, including sending out emails during work hours and talking about the election and about Bennett during parent-teacher conferences. Meanwhile, David Galvin, a spokesman for Ritz, said that the campaign was very specific in its messaging to supporters, explaining regulations clearly such as work email not being allowed to send out political messages.
Galvin said most of the communications involving teachers supporting the Ritz campaign came through Facebook and other social media. He said did not recall answering a single email during the campaign from a supporter that came from a school district email account.
"There are a whole lot of other reasons I can think of for why a whole lot of teachers voted for Glenda Ritz," Galvin said. "They just can't seem to get over the fact that Glenda won and people rejected how they were handling their reforms."
Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, also denied the accusations and called on Daniels to produce proof of his allegations. If anyone used public resources to bolster his candidacy it was Bennett, he added, referring to the incident of a campaign commercial that was filmed on school grounds.
"I would characterize (Daniels' remarks) as sour grapes," Schnellenberger said. "I would think that the governor, being a politician, would understand that in every election there are winners and losers, and in this election more than 1.3 million voters in Indiana — far more than our membership of 40,000 — voted for Glenda Ritz."
When contacted for comment, however, the Indiana Department of Education said that the commercial in question was filmed on the grounds of a private school – adding that the information was readily available to the public, if anyone had bothered to ask.
Bennett made no comments about the accusations and counter-accusations, saying through his spokesman that he was "moving past" his electoral defeat. Daniels, who is also leaving office in January, is set to begin serving as President of Purdue University next year.