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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH/AP) — Republican Jennifer McCormick has been elected Indiana’s state schools superintendent of public instruction, defeating Democratic incumbent Glenda Ritz.

McCormick is now superintendent of the Yorktown Community Schools near Muncie. She ran a campaign critical of Ritz’s management of the Education Department and maintained she could work better with the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Ritz was the only Democrat among Indiana’s elected state officeholders for the past four years. She clashed frequently with Republican Gov. Mike Pence and GOP lawmakers over issues such as administration of the A-F school ratings system and expansion of the state’s private school voucher and charter school programs.

McCormick will be involved in upcoming debates over the state’s selection of a new standardized exam to replace the much-maligned ISTEP and the push for expansion of state-funded preschool programs.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – John Gregg is pushing an education agenda that calls for more career training. The Democrat in the race for governor is also calling on Republican Eric Holcomb to produce a plan of his own and he won’t have to wait long.

Democrats have been hammering Holcomb for a failure to post any policy positions on his website. That changes Tuesday when Holcomb will announce an economic development plan. An education plan will soon follow.

John Gregg toured the J. Everett Light Career Center Monday to get a first hand look at the Washington Township program that trains high school students from 12 school corporations for all sorts of careers.

“We need auto body repair people like we see here in this facility,” he said. “We need entry level computer people like we see here in this facility. This is what it’s about.”

He was joined by state School Superintendent Glenda Ritz who gave her endorsement of vocational training.

“Those who actually get into career exploration, even if they take only the introductory course,” she said, “there’s a 95 percent graduation rate of those students.”

But the education talk was tinged with politics. Gregg pointed out how Statehouse Republicans have blocked the Ritz agenda.

“Rather than working against the Superintendent of Public Instruction,” he said. “I’m going to work with her.”

And he took a shot at Republican Eric Holcomb. “He’s got no plan,” he said.

It’s a line that Gregg can only use for a few more days. But the education issue will remain front and center till Election day and beyond.

Next week the candidates for governor will meet in their first debate and it will be focused on education. Keep in mind that more than half of the state budget goes to education funding.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Indiana schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s office approved a lucrative technology contract that state government officials said should have been subject to competitive bid, benefiting a company that later gave one of her key aides a senior job.

Documents and emails provided to The Associated Press show state officials who review contracts were alarmed it was not put out to public bid, and tried to stop it. They also show that the proposal to develop a mobile app for Indiana schools to communicate data such as standardized test scores to the state could be a multimillion-dollar boon for AT&T and its Georgia-based software developer N2N Services.

“We told (the Indiana office of technology) to sit on this and not do anything,” one contract review supervisor wrote in an email on Aug. 26, 2015. The contract should have been “bid out through an open market solicitation,” wrote the supervisor, who works for the Indiana Department of Administration managed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s administration.

But the contract went ahead anyway. The point person was Ritz’s then-spokesman and one-time political adviser David Galvin, who worked with N2N Services to develop the app and steer it through the bureaucracy. Shortly after it was finalized, Galvin went to work for N2N Services as its executive director of marketing and communications. AP reported in June on Galvin taking the job with N2N Services but since then AP obtained additional documents that show opposition to the way the contract was structured.

Critics said the technology contract highlights Indiana’s lax ethics laws. It also feeds a perception that Ritz – the only Democrat elected to statewide office and who is seeking a second term in November – has been a poor manager of the Department of Education since she ousted incumbent Tony Bennett in 2012.

“There were (school) superintendents that complained about disorganization, about receiving mixed messages from the department,” former Democratic state board of education member Tony Walker said of Ritz’s management. “People being told one thing then having that reversed at a later date.”

Indiana has seen several ethics scandals in recent years. Former schools superintendent Bennett was involved in a school accountability scandal, former Indiana Department of Transportation chief of staff Troy Woodruff sold land to the agency, and state Rep. Eric Turner helped kill a nursing home construction ban that could have cost his family business millions.

Ritz’s chief of staff, Craig Hartzer, certified the contract for the app on Sept. 1, 2015, the day payment was approved, signing the document in a space reserved for a contract reviewer in the Department of Administration, the main agency responsible for state contracts.

Current Ritz spokesman Daniel Altman said her office was never told about opposition to the arrangement and said that appropriate procedures were followed.

“We have not received any record of anyone from these agencies objecting to this project. If we had, we would have obviously worked out any issues before moving forward,” Altman said.

N2N Services said in an email that Galvin is no longer employed there. Galvin could not be reached, though his profile on the professional networking site LinkedIn listed him as an N2N Services employee Wednesday and he has a company voicemail. An older website for the company lists him as an employee, but not a newer site.

The contract was structured as two amendments to the state’s existing cellphone plan with AT&T – a move that appeared to circumvent the competitive bidding process generally required for purchases above $75,000. It also allowed the deal to move forward without formal review by the Indiana Department of Administration.

“We’ve never seen these before,” an employee in the Indiana office of technology wrote in an email that alerted contract reviewers. “Do you know what it is and is it okay to process?”

The supervisor who manages the state’s cellphone plan with AT&T later objected to piggybacking the deal on the cellphone plan, writing that it was “beyond the scope” of the AT&T deal.

Ritz had hailed the mobile app as a novel new way to communicate with school districts. If adopted by even a fraction of Indiana’s roughly 300 school districts it could yield a large pay day for AT&T and N2N Services because each district would pay over $100,000 in startup costs, according to an estimate from AT&T.

Before he stepped down from Ritz’s office, Galvin issued a July 2015 release touting the app, later updated to remove his name after the AP report in June that he took a job with N2N Services.

Galvin was a key figure in instigating an ethics investigation of Bennett as Florida’s schools chief. Bennett took the Florida job after losing to Ritz. But he quickly stepped down after Galvin helped make public emails showing Bennett overhauled Indiana’s “A-F” school grading system in 2012 to benefit a charter school run by a Republican donor.

An ethics expert said it was hypocritical of Galvin to push the contract and take a job with the company when he had championed ethics in attacking Republican Bennett.

“You want to be careful about throwing stones if you live in a glass house,” said Stuart Yoak, executive director for the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics at Indiana University. “You should avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Indiana law generally requires a one-year cooling off period for state government employees before working for a company they had financial dealings with. Those suspected of violations can be investigated by the state’s inspector general, who can forward findings to a prosecutor for further action.

Galvin sought informal ethics guidance before he took the job, but never requested a formal opinion even though it was recommended by an ethics officer “because of his extensive interaction with N2N,” according to an email released by Ritz’s office.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – State School Superintendent Glenda Ritz has been at odds with the governor and with Republican super majorities in the General Assembly ever since she took office following the 2012 election.

Suddenly she finds herself in agreement on a key issue and she took some time today to point that out.

Ritz, a Democrat, called a news conference Monday to spell out her legislative agenda.

It contains just three items and two of them are related to the ISTEP test.

The top priority is the bill that is already moving in the General Assembly. It calls for a a pause in accountability measures tied to ISTEP.

Under it, ISTEP will have no bearing on school grades or teacher raises for one year.

Ritz also called for creating a new test. She said that ISTEP doesn’t help teachers.

“They know their subject matter and they know their students,” she said. “They can tell you who’s not going to pass that ISTEP before they ever hand it out. It’s a pass/fail exam. It doesn’t inform instruction.”

Ritz was careful to say that she’s been calling for a time out on ISTEP for a year and a half. Republicans have come around to her position in just the last couple of weeks.

The third item on her agenda calls for taking steps to address a teacher shortage in Indiana. She’s waiting for recommendations from a commission she appointed. Those recommendations are expected later this week.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — ISTEP issues continue, this time it has to do with test scores. Changes have made the exam more challenging and therefore a new grading system will be in place.

The Indiana State Board of Education was set to vote on cut scores, or the minimum score needed in order to pass the ISTEP exam. But that didn’t happen, further delaying test results.

The latest ISTEP exam measures college and career readiness. The old test measured ISTEP proficiency.

“You’re talking about a brand new assessment that we gave last time. Issues are abound to arise. We’ll just address them and move forward,” said State Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

One of those issues are about technical problems. Some classrooms experienced problems with the online version and had to resort to paper and pencil versions. One fourth grade teacher and board member, Sarah O’Brien is concerned the two versions varied in difficulty. She says they may require two sets of cut scores.

“Something that might’ve been a multiple choice question with four possible answers in one format and then could be an open ended with unlimited responses in another format,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien says she made it clear to the board back in July that she would not move forward with a cut score vote until a comparability study was completed and analyzed. The results of that study were in on October 2, but were not handed over for analysis until late Tuesday night.

“Bottom line is, we did not have the opportunity to have that authentic look at it to make sure we are making an informed decision in the best interest of our students,” said O’Brien.

Ritz says she was not aware that the board had requested the study before they would vote.

“So we’re going to step back, make sure that gets resolved. Try to stay on our time schedule to make sure that we’re going to be where we need to be to get the A to F grades out,” said Ritz.

The board is scheduled to hold a special meeting on October 28th. If the comparability study is reviewed, and there are not further issues, the board could establish the cut scores then.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – A college English instructor in Fort Wayne says she’s seeking the Republican nomination for state superintendent of public instruction.

Dawn Wooten said she filed election paperwork Thursday and has launched a campaign website

Wooten is the first Republican to announce a candidacy for state schools chief. Democratic incumbent Glenda Ritz is seeking a second term after abandoning a campaign for governor. Nominees will be chosen at state party conventions next year.

The 45-year-old Wooten, a Connersville native, says many of her students at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, the University of St. Francis and Ivy Tech Community College Northeast need remediation and that should change.

Wooten, an opponent of the Common Core academic standards, served on the College and Career Readiness Panel that prepared new state K-12 academic standards.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – State Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz made it official Thursday – she’s running for Indiana governor.

She spoke for the first time since discretely announcing her candidacy on a letterhead Wednesdaywelcoming the organizers and guests of Indy Pride. In bright blue and yellow, it read “Ritz for Governor” and just above her signature read “Candidate for Governor.”

In 2012, Ritz pulled out a surprise win against incumbent Tony Bennett to become the next Superintendent of Public Instruction. Ritz was seen as a huge underdog but made a substantial push on social media. She’s been battling with Republicans ever since.

Just this past legislative session, Republicans at the Statehouse worked to pass a bill that would remove Ritz and any other superintendent as head of the Board of Education. Ritz supporters said Republicans were working to strip power away from her.

As for her opponents in the Democratic primary, Ritz will take on two so far. John Gregg, former Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, who lost to Governor Mike Pence in the 2012 gubernatorial race. Also running for the Democratic nomination is state Sen. Karen Tallian from northwest Indiana. If Ritz wins the primary, she will face Pence in the general election.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Less than three months after signing the religious freedom law, Governor Pence sent a welcome letter ahead of this year’s circle city pride festival.

The governor joined a selection of mostly democratic officials in sending welcome letters. Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz was one of them, who sent her letter on “Glenda Ritz for Governor 2016” letterhead.

“We were really surprised to receive it especially with the letterhead that was on top which announced Glenda Ritz for Governor,” said Indy Pride president Chris Morehead. “It’s wonderful for anybody to send a letter, especially someone that appears to be aspiring for the seat of governor.”

The event is arguably the most welcoming festival Indianapolis has to offer with a guest list that pushed more than 90,000 people last year.

But before Circle City IN Pride flows proudly through the streets, all of those visitors typically get a warm welcome from state and local leaders.

Scott Pelath, Timothy Lanane, and Zach Adamson also sent letters which are posted on the organization’s website.

This year’s pride festival comes on the heels of the RFRA fallout. Governor Pence made no mention of the controversy. This is the first welcome letter he’s sent to the group.

His letter assured visitors they would experience quote “famous Hoosier hospitality” during their stay.

And encouraged them to take full advantage of the city’s attractions.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence also sent a letter to Pride:

Indy Pride President Chris Morehead said the organization asked for a letter, but was surprised they got it.

“We definitely weren’t holding our breath, I’ll put it that way, but definitely are appreciative that the governor did take the time out of his schedule to draft a letter and send it to us,” said Morehead.

But he also said the governor’s welcome was a little lukewarm.

“We definitely wish it had been a little bit more specific in nature. Much more like the letters we received in the past from Governor Daniels that speaks specifically to the LGBT community here and how open and welcoming and the wonderful work that Indy Pride definitely does year-round as well as during the festival week,” said Morehead.

Indy Pride officially begins on Friday. The biggest event is the festival, which draws upward of a hundred thousand people. It’s being held on Saturday, June 13 on the American Legion Mall downtown.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — State Senator Karen Tallian kicked off a campaign for governor Tuesday.

She’s an outspoken Democrat who says Indiana needs a change.

Tallian calls herself a progressive but believes she is closer to the middle of the road than Mike Pence is.

She is motivated by RFRA, GOP attacks on the Department of Education, and the repeal of the common construction wage.

But in a Statehouse announcement, Tallian said she decided to run for governor two years ago.

She declined to say anything critical about fellow democrats John Gregg or Glenda Ritz.

And she made no effort to avoid her support of more lenient marijuana laws. Tallian supports decriminalization.

“I don’t believe that anybody should be going to jail because they’ve smoked pot,” she said. “I just don’t believe that. If they have a problem then it’s a health problem not a criminal justice problem.”

She also said people from all over the state support legalizing medical marijuana.

“There’s no reason why we can’t give a dying person anything they want,” she said.

Some of the people in the crowd behind Tallian, including at least one Republican, were there solely because of her position on marijuana laws.

Tallian is a long shot, nevertheless.

She starts this race with a couple of disadvantages. She is from northwest Indiana and she has almost no statewide name ID.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Governor Mike Pence says that a new state budget backs up his promise to make the 2015 Session of the General Assembly an “education session.”

The governor signed that budget into law Thursday in a ceremony that may have something to do with rebuilding the governor’s image.

Pence has been advised that in order to get his sagging approval rating back up following the RFRA disaster, he needs to concentrate on jobs and education.

He leaves on a trade mission to China Saturday. On Thursday, he spent some time with school children.

It was a big show. More than 300 school children joined the governor for a bill signing that he called historic because of 2.3 percent increases in school funding over the next two years.

“We provide the kind of funding that more accurately supports the principle,” he said, “that the resources should follow the student.”

But the superlatives weren’t matched by the governor’s host, Lebanon superintendent Robert Taylor who described the budget by saying, “As we sit today, it is sufficient and adequate.”

And Democrats who voted against the budget on the last night of the General Assembly eight days ago stand by the arguments made then.

“The governor said this was going to be an educational session,” said Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) “unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, it devolved into a RFRA session and now from the budget we present today. it’s going to be a RIF session.”

In fact, more than a hundred school districts will lose money under the budget.

And before the governor left Lebanon, he promised to sign an even more controversial education bill, the one that takes power away from state school Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

“I also said we needed to fix what’s broken,” said Pence, “and the challenges we face in the State Board of Education are well-known to people all over the state.”

The governor did wait until a Board of Education meeting ended before he acted.

On Friday, the governor will finish acting on bills passed by the General Assembly and there may be a surprise or two.

He promised at least one veto and he declined to indicate what he will do with the gambling bill. It permits riverboats to move on land and could lead to live dealers at racinos in 2021, and suddenly appears vulnerable.