Republican Jennifer McCormick is still raking in dollars from power players in Indiana’s education reform scene for her bid for state superintendent — even though she’s taken steps to distance herself from that movement.
As recently as the candidates debate on Monday, McCormick, a superintendent in Yorktown, told the audience in Fort Wayne that she has had enough of the education politics of the past eight years and revealed an interest in tamping down initiatives that divert money from traditional public schools. That’s a departure from the positions of many in Indiana’s education reform movement, which includes those who support charter schools and expanding access to taxpayer-funded vouchers for private school tuition.
Her donors either don’t realize it — or don’t really care, preferring McCormick’s vision to her opponent’s, Democrat incumbent Glenda Ritz, regardless.
For Betsy Wiley, who heads the school choice advocacy group Institute for Quality Education, it’s the latter.
“It’s important for Jennifer to make it clear … that she is her own person,” Wiley said. “There is no question that our organization is a stronger supporter of parental choice than she is.”
Wiley said McCormick’s leadership experience and openness to school choice make her worth supporting despite their policy differences. She also noted that much has changed in Indiana education dynamics than when former Gov. Mitch Daniels recruited Tony Bennett to run as state superintendent back in 2008.
During Bennett and Daniel’s term together, Indiana saw sweeping changes in how schools and teachers were rated and paid, and saw charter schools and vouchers proliferate. Now, in the time since Ritz defeated Bennett in 2012, the focus is more on how those things are being tweaked and adjusted, she said.
Wiley doesn’t expect McCormick to be “Tony Bennett 2.0.”
“A lot of the big reforms are done,” she said.
New fundraising reports show that, in the past several months, McCormick won another large donation from Christel DeHaan, the founder of the the network of Christel House charter schools. DeHaan gave $50,000, bringing her total contributions to McCormick’s campaign to $125,000. Hoosiers for Quality Education, the political arm of Wiley’s organization, also gave $50,000, in addition to $10,000 earlier in the year.
Smaller individual donations came from Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, who didn’t contribute to Bennett’s campaign, ($750); Robert Enlow, CEO of EdChoice, formerly the Friedman Foundation, ($1,000); and Wiley ($1,250).
Yet for some Indianapolis education advocates, Bennett’s donors are too close to McCormick’s campaign for comfort, no matter McCormick’s policy departures.
“Those folks were contributors to Tony Bennett’s campaign … that is still a concern to us,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. “They represent more privatization.”
Meredith said she could see how McCormick was inching away from Bennett’s politics at the debate, but ultimately, it’s not enough for her to abandon her concerns.
“I don’t think she wants to be lumped in with Tony Bennett, but the truth of the matter is, that’s who’s supporting her,” she said.
In that same period, McCormick raised $117,636. So far in 2016 she has raised $271,216, with more than $123,000 on hand.
The majority of Ritz’s donations have come from teachers unions’ political action committees and other union groups.
Recently, Ritz saw large donations from the American Federation of Teachers, which gave $30,000; the PAC affiliated with the Indiana State Teachers Association, called Indiana Political Action Committee for Education, which has given more than $150,000 in 2016; and other contributions from unions and state Democratic organizations.
Other smaller donations came from Sam Odle, an Indianapolis Public Schools board member running for re-election ($250) and Meredith ($105).