Tonight is the night Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will take the stage in Cleveland at the 2016 Republican National Convention. He is now, officially, the vice-presidential running mate of Republican nominee Donald Trump.
But before that happens, we want to take a dive into Pence’s education policies in the nearly four years he’s been the governor of Indiana.
Just how much does he have in common with Donald Trump when it comes to schools and education? Definitely not nothing. Let’s take a look.
“Got to get rid of Common Core — fast.” That was Trump just before presenting Pence on television to the nation as his running mate last Saturday.
And at one point a couple of years ago, it seemed Gov. Pence would be the trailblazer to do just that: be the first state leader to repeal Common Core (the national math and English education standards) after having adopted it at the state level. But it didn’t totally turn out that way.
Let’s go back to 2010, when Indiana’s former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and the GOP-controlled Statehouse wholeheartedly endorsed Common Core for Indiana.
Three years later, when Pence took office, local Tea Party groups and other activists began a campaign to repeal the standards they saw as a federal overreach into classrooms.
Then, in 2014, Pence signed into law a withdrawal from Common Core and promised a quick turnaround for new school standards, “written by hoosiers, for hoosiers.”
But many anti-Common Core advocates felt betrayed by the results — because of similarities between the math and English portions of Common Core, and Indiana’s new guidelines.
Sandra Stotsky, a retired University of Arkansas professor, and critic of the national standards, was asked by the Pence administration to review the proposed standards. She described a draft of the English exam as a warmed-over version of Common Core. Since then, her opinion hasn’t changed.
Other critics of Indiana’s education standards have taken to social media the past week to remind people “how bad Mike Pence is on Common Core.” (That from Conservative Review senior editor Michelle Malkin in a tweet.)
Pence has defended the standards, saying they’re “unlike those in any other state” and that they “will prepare our students to compete nationally and internationally.”
If “School choice is where it’s at,” as Trump said when he appeared on television with Pence on Saturday, then Indiana is where school choice is at.
That’s because under Gov. Pence, the growth in the number of charter schools and the use of private school vouchers have exploded. After the voucher program survived a state Supreme Court challenge in 2013, it’s grown into one of the largest in the country.
Pence helped to do that by advocating to expand the program to include middle-income, not just low-income families, and also by removing the cap on how many students qualify.
Since those changes, the number of students receiving taxpayer funds to attend a private school, religious or not, has grown from 4,000 to more than 30,000 students in five years.
Over that same time, political tensions have also grown around the unbudgeted expense of the program, estimated at $53 million just for the 2015-16 school year.
Democrats say sending millions of dollars to private, often religious schools, takes money away from public schools that the state has a legal mandate to maintain.
And let’s not forget charters. Pence’s school choice initiatives have benefited those schools, too, by creating a $50 million, low-interest loan program for them.
During the last budget session, Pence tried to push the Republican-dominated Legislature to pass an additional $1,500-per-student allocation to charters in order to pay for non-academic expenses, like transportation. But the measure was eventually scaled back to $500 per student.
And finally, after concerns over poor-performing charter schools, Pence passed laws to prevent failing or troubled charter schools from escaping closure by finding a new sponsor. Now Indiana is rated No. 1 in the nation for charter accountability by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
Creating a pre-K pilot program was one of Pence’s top legislative priorities for the 2014 legislative session, even as many of his Republican colleagues in the General Assembly opposed it. At that time, Indiana was one of only 10 states without state-funded pre-K.
Eventually he negotiated the On My Way Pre-K pilot program. Over the past two years, it’s provided scholarships for nearly 2,300 low-income 3- and 4-year-olds.
While many cheered Pence for the program, he faced major criticism later in 2014 after refusing to let the state apply for $80 million in federal money to expand it. He claimed he didn’t want “federal intrusion” into the program, but reversed course last month when he wrote a letter to explain his interest in using federal money to expand On My Way Pre-K.
Rivalry At The Top
When Pence was elected in 2012, Indiana’s education policies on school choice, teacher evaluations and school grades were in the middle of major adjustments.
And then there was the new state superintendent, Glenda Ritz, a Democrat. She’d just won election, too, in a surprise victory over a Republican incumbent.
An already tense relationship between Pence and Ritz erupted in 2013 after Pence signed an executive order to create an education agency supporting his appointees on the State Board of Education that Ritz oversees.
Since then, the two have fought over the length of the state’s standardized test, differences on No Child Left Behind, and whether to seek federal funding for pre-K.
Then Pence signed a bill requiring the state education board to elect its own chair in 2017, taking some power away from Ritz’s position. She accused him of attempting “a complete takeover” of education policy.
But the two have landed on some common ground — even if they didn’t get there together.
Last year, Ritz warned that scores on a statewide test would plummet because of changes to the test. Teachers, she said, should not be held accountable for scores that year. Pence and GOP lawmakers disagreed on suspending accountability.
But when the pass rate dropped by 22 percent statewide, Pence signed a bill that paused sanctions on teachers and schools for the low scores. Many argue that those low marks were a result of a more challenging test designed after Pence repealed Common Core in Indiana.