Putting Education Reform To The Test

How Indiana And Idaho Voters Sent A Message To Jeb Bush

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz upset Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett in Indiana. The election was seen as a national referendum on education reform, particularly policies pushed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Our sister sites StateImpact Indiana and StateImpact Idaho have done a great job covering big education-related election stories this year.

In Indiana, Democrat Glenda Ritz upset Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. While in Idaho, voters appear to have repealed three laws — known as “Students Come First” — which sparked opposition from state and national teacher’s unions.

What’s that got to do with Florida? Former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bennett is a close Bush ally and heads Chiefs for Change, a group of superintendents affiliated with the Foundation for Excellence in Education which Bush launched.

With Bush’s help, Bennett convinced the Indiana legislature to pass laws enacting an A through F report card style grading system. It requires teachers are evaluated using student test scores, and that third graders be held back if they can not pass a reading test and expanding school choice.

Sound familiar, Florida residents?

The Indiana vote was seen as a national proxy for that suite of policies supported by Bennett and pioneered by Bush.

“This [race] is definitely being watched nationally as a referendum on reform,” Mike Petrilli, the executive vice president of the right-leaning Fordham Institute and Bennett ally, told the Associated Press before the vote. “If Tony Bennett can push this kind of aggressive reform agenda and win, it will give a big lift to other politicians eager to enact similar reforms.”

Ritz is also more skeptical of Common Core standards championed by Bush.

The question now is whether Bennett will throw his name in for Florida’s vacant Commissioner of Education post?

Voters in Idaho seem to be sending a similar message in a state also headed by a Bush ally in Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

There, three ballot measures asked voters whether to keep or reject laws which would require teacher evaluations, enact merit pay, end tenure, require two online courses to graduate and emphasize the use of technology and digital materials in schools among other changes.

Votes were still trickling in Wednesday morning, but all three appeared headed for defeat.

Bush even hosted a fundraiser in Tampa during the Republican National Convention to support the passage of the three measures.

Florida has heard the growing rumbling of similar dissatisfaction with these education policies over the past year.

Gov. Rick Scott seems to be paying attention.

Will these soon become election issues in Florida as well?


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