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Indiana’s Pence, Trump VP Pick: Pro-School Choice, Anti-Common Core

By Alyson Klein — July 15, 2016 3 min read
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Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice-presidential running mate, Trump announced on Twitter Friday. So what’s Pence’s record on education? It’s clear the Republican governor has quite a bit in common with the man at the top of the ticket, at least when it comes to school choice and academic standards, in particular.

Common Standards

For instance, Trump campaigned vehemently against the Common Core State Standards. Indiana, under Pence, was the very first state to ditch them. And before that, the state backed out of federally-funded PARCC tests aligned to the standards.

School Choice Support

Trump has also voiced support for school choice, without getting into specifics about exactly how he’d expand it.

But Pence has a robust record on the issue. As governor, he pushed through the most significant increase in charter school funding in years, according to Chalkbeat Indiana. Pence worked with the legislature to create a $10 million grant fund that would offer an extra $500 per student to charters that post better outcomes than traditional public schools. And if Pence had his way, the funding would have been even more robust—he initially pitched a $1,500 per charter school student increase.

Pence also gave charter schools access to a $50 million fund to help cover the cost of loans for school construction or the purchase of educational technology. And he successfully called for lawmakers to raise the $4,800 cap on vouchers for elementary school students. (Now the cap will be dependent on family income and local school spending, as high school vouchers already were.) Pence also persuaded lawmakers to approve bonus pay for highly effective teachers.

Jeanne Allen, the founder of the Center for Education Reform, which supports choice, called Pence, an “outspoken supporter of the critical right of parents to choose the school that is best for their children,” in a statement Thursday.

But the National Education Association is less enthusiastic about the pick.

“A darling of the extreme Republicans and the Tea Party, Mike Pence has been terrible for Indiana’s students, families and public schools. As an unpopular and divisive governor, he pushed for draconian cuts to K-12 public schools at the same time that he diverted funds via private vouchers schemes from public to private schools and significantly expanded the number of corporate-run, unaccountable charter schools,” said the union’s president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, in a statement.

Early-Childhood Record

In 2014, Pence helped start a $10 million preschool program in Indiana, but demand has far outstripped the program’s capacity. Pence had initially refused to apply for up to $80 million in federal funds, through the Preschool Development Grant program, that would have allowed the Hoosier State to create more slots. After serious criticism, he reversed course earlier this year, writing to federal Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell asking for details on how to apply for the funds.

Hoosier State Tensions

Trump is known for his combative streak. Pence is seen as more mild-mannered, but he has clashed with repeatedly with Indiana’s elected superintendent, Democrat Glenda Ritz. For instance, Ritz wasn’t happy when he created a new Center for Innovation and Career Education, aimed at strengthening ties between Indiana’s schools and the private sector. Ritz saw the new agency as stepping on her turf.

The agency creation led to tension between Ritz, Pence, and the state board of education, especially over Indiana’s A through F grading system. Pence ultimately dissolved the center, in part to smooth things over.

NCLB Opponent

As a member of Congress from 2001 to 2013, Pence was decidedly against a strong federal role in K-12 policy, even before it was cool. Back in 2001, Pence was one of just a handful of lawmakers to vote against the No Child Left Behind Act. The law, which was overwhelmingly popular at the time, represented a serious expansion of the federal footprint on K-12.

Later, as a leader of the Republican Study Committee, Pence continued to trash the law, telling National Journal back in 2006 that it seemed like something President Bill Clinton would have pushed through. (Ten years later, Clinton’s wife, of course, is Trump’s competition for the presidency.)

Want more? Great tutorial on Pence’s record and approach to governing when it comes to education from some of the folks who know him best on education over at Chalkbeat Indiana.

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