The Democrats aren’t Duck Dynasty

John Krull

Republicans on the education committee of the Indiana House of Representatives celebrated National School Choice Week in a special way – by taking choices away from Hoosier voters who care about schools.

The education committee decided, on an 8-3 party-line vote, to strip the state superintendent of public instruction of serving as chair of the Indiana Board of Education, overturning more than a century of Indiana history and public policy in the process.

The GOP committee members did so because they don’t like the results of an election – the one in 2012 that put Democrat Glenda Ritz in the superintendent’s office and established her as chair of the board.

Since she took office, Gov. Mike Pence and his fellow Republicans have done everything in their power – and some things that were beyond their legal powers – to ignore, deny or thwart the results of that election.

And they have done it in the name of “empowering” parents to make choices.

By coincidence, just a couple of days before the committee vote, I talked with two eloquent and passionate education reform advocates.

Robert Enlow of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and Tosha Salyers of the Institute for Quality Education came on the radio show I host to talk about National School Choice Week, a celebration of and push for charter schools and vouchers.

Both Enlow and Salyers lamented how “politicized” the education debate has become. They said it didn’t have to be that way.

Perhaps.

I hadn’t met Salyers until right before we went on the air, but Enlow I’ve known for some time.

He’s a good man. There are people in the education wars who are fighting for reasons that are less than honorable, but he isn’t one of them. He takes the stands he does in support of charter schools and school vouchers because he believes, wholeheartedly, that they represent the best ways to serve children.

And he’s willing to stand up to and absorb a lot of heat because he thinks this state’s children deserve our best efforts.

I respect him and his commitment, even if I don’t always agree with his positions.

During the show, I pressed him about the distrust created by the revelations that former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett had altered school grades so a charter school founded by one of his supporters would look better.

During one of the breaks, Enlow groused, genially, that I always ask him about the Bennett debacle when he comes on the show.

He’s right. I do.

And that’s for a couple of reasons.

The first is that I want him and other members of the education reform crowd to understand and acknowledge the seeds of distrust they sow when they refuse to accept as real any outcome – whether it is a school grade or an election result – that is other than the one they wanted. Advocates for traditional public education and neutral observers see that not just as undermining honest inquiry but also as examples of bad faith.

The other reason I press him is that any de-escalation of the education wars in Indiana will have to start with good people like Enlow. It is because I know he is a fair and honorable man that I want him to see the damage being done both to the cause he serves and children he seeks to serve by some of these heavy-handed maneuvers.

The Republicans in the House committee meeting who want to remove Ritz as chair of the education board echoed Enlow’s and Salyers’ laments about the “politicization” of education policymaking Indiana.

But they weren’t willing to own any of that problem themselves.

It’s one thing to preach accountability.

It’s altogether another thing to practice it.

Peace does not happen by itself.

Peace comes because people of good faith work to achieve a just resolution of differences. Peace comes because people of good faith strive to redress grievances and, to the best of their ability, make things right where they can.

Peace comes because people of good faith accept responsibility for the wrong that has been done.

That’s the key.

They accept responsibility.

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