TERRE HAUTE —
Glenda Ritz, Democratic candidate for Indiana superintendent of public instruction, is criticizing her Republican opponent for allowing out-of-state corporations to run and profit from academically-challenged public schools taken over by the state.
She is running against incumbent Tony Bennett.
“We do not need outside companies coming into the state of Indiana and deciding what our education is going to be for our kids,” and at the same time making a profit, she said Wednesday outside the Vigo County Courthouse.
The contracts between the out-of-state companies and the state Department of Education do not set a limit on how much profit the outside companies can make, she said.
The fear is that these companies will “run schools as cheaply as they can run them to increase their profit margin,” Ritz said.
She opposes state takeover of schools and outside companies running Indiana schools.
Her approach, she said, would be to conduct yearly, regional summits with school districts and communities to identify challenges and ways IDOE can support the schools. It might mean restructuring IDOE, changes in funding structures or legislative action, she said.
“There is a myriad of ways DOE can support what is going on at the local level to be sure we get what is needed in schools and address the challenges,” she said.
This fall, five public schools in Indiana — one in Gary and four in Indianapolis — will be under the management of private and nonprofit companies hired by the state, according to an Indianapolis Star article cited by Ritz.
The schools were taken over by the state because of years of academic failure. The state then entered into four-year contracts with the outside operators to run them.
According to a review of those contracts by the Indianapolis newspaper, “The state will pay more than $30 million to the takeover schools, but nowhere in the contracts does it say how much of that money the operators can keep in profit or, conversely, how much of it they must spend in the classroom.”
The state contracts pay each of the operators a set amount per pupil.
On Wednesday Ritz charged that “these corporations are making their profits on the backs of Indiana’s school children, and their profits are your tax dollars … I don’t think Hoosiers signed up for that.”
Ross McMullin, Bennett’s campaign spokesperson, said that “Dr. Bennett’s focus is to ensure Indiana’s students graduate ready for the workforce, and to do this we need innovative and positive solutions that improve opportunities available to students.”
If other Indiana schools “are fiscally responsible and have cash reserves, then they also have the flexibility to reward their best teachers and administrators” as the result of recent legislative changes, he said.
Ritz also criticized “pay-to-play” contributions to Tony Bennett’s campaign from corporations currently taking over Indiana schools.
She also noted that Edison Learning Inc., hired by IDOE last summer to operate Gary’s Roosevelt College and Career Academy, has filed a lawsuit in Marion County against the Gary Community School Corp. over matters related to student records, school maintenance and transportation. That represents an out-of-state company “suing taxpayers,” she said.
McMullin responded that the Ritz campaign has “offered nothing but empty political rhetoric since their announcement … Dr. Bennett will continue to focus on positive and innovative ideas that improve the opportunities available to Indiana’s students.”
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.