A few people stood and clapped after Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett finished fielding questions at a forum Wednesday night at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, but after challenger Glenda Ritz read her closing statement, more than half the auditorium started cheering.
“I have to say, after hearing the debate, I am most definitely still a Ritz supporter because of all the things she spoke to about working for the school corporations and with them, as opposed to do things to them,” says Jennifer Smith-Margraf, a teacher from Lafayette who drove down for the event.
The League of Women Voters sponsored the forum, during which Indianapolis Star reporter Matt Tully first interviewed Bennett, then Ritz. The topics included high stakes testing, accountability and privatization.
Bennett voiced support for school choice, including charters and vouchers. He cited the closing of The Project School in Indianapolis as an example of charters agreeing to a higher degree of accountability in exchange for flexibility. He also spoke at length about school takeover. Bennett says he doesn’t have a problem with the turnaround operators cutting a profit as long as they’re getting results.Ritz maintained that state dollars should only go to support public schools. She says she’ll focus on improving the quality of instruction in Indiana schools if elected. She thinks that turnaround efforts should start with “bottom up” support for teachers in struggling schools. Ritz also says she believes Bennett’s success in improving standardized test scores has been overstated.
The two candidates were not on stage at the same time.
That disappointed some attendees, who had been expecting a back-and-forth exchange between the two candidates for state superintendent. But the League of Women Voters says it did not promote the event as a debate.
Though Bennett’s supporters were clearly in attendance, they were less vocal than the crowd that turned out to back Ritz. At one point, Tully had to ask her supporters to hold their applause until the end. Outside the auditorium, campaign volunteers passed out yellow “Ritz 4 Education” flyers after the forum.
But one parent, Jackie Rhoton, says she was disappointed in both candidates for not spending more time discussing the new academic standards the state is on track to adopt.
“We are trying to stop — or at least see Indiana opt out of — the Common Core standards,” says Rhoton, who wore a Boone County Tea Party shirt to the forum.
Rhoton says she’s seen Bennett speak at various events, but she hasn’t been satisfied with his answers as to why Indiana adopted the standards in the first place. She says that made it harder to decide who to vote for when she cast her ballot earlier this month.
So why come to a candidate forum?
“I just want to get the information out to people,” she says, handing out leaflets opposing the Common Core.
If you’re still trying to make up your mind, be sure to tune in 7 p.m. EST Friday for a live debate between Bennett and Ritz. Our very own Kyle Stokes will be asking the questions, so be sure to submit yours.