October 5, 2012

Indiana superintendent of public instruction weighs in on issues

(Editor’s note: During the month of October, the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana, is offering area Catholics a three-part series of articles profiling statewide-elected officials, including the candidates for Indiana governor, U.S. Senate and Indiana superintendent of public instruction.

In each article, the candidates are asked pertinent questions that relate to the office which they seek to hold. The questions and answers will appear in their entirety. The articles are designed to serve as a resource for Catholics.

This week, we share a question-and-answer interview with incumbent Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, a Republican.

After repeated attempts to contact Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz’s campaign manager and the Indiana Democratic Party press staff—including offering a two-day extension to our deadline—Ritz did not provide any responses to the ICC’s questions.)

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

The 2012 election brings an opportunity for Catholics to shape public policy.

“The Catholic Church does not and cannot tell voters which candidates or political party in which to vote,” said Glenn Tebbe, Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) executive director. “Rather, the Church encourages people to form their consciences on basic Church moral teachings, fulfill their moral duty and exercise their right to vote.

“The Indiana superintendent of public instruction, in cooperation with the governor and state lawmakers, drive education policy,” Tebbe said. “Education has a far-reaching impact on families and children and society as a whole and, because of that, it is an important issue for the Church to address.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett shares his responses to questions posed by the ICC on education issues and policy.

Q. What role does the Department of Education (DOE) have in ensuring that quality educational opportunities are available in urban and rural areas?

A. “I believe we must elevate the academic achievement and career preparation of all Indiana students to be the best in the United States and on par with the most competitive countries in the world.

“Through the hard work of Hoosier students and educators, we have found success—and I’m pleased to report that by every measure, our students are achieving more today than they were four years ago.

“Almost 86 percent of Indiana students graduated high school in 2011—the highest mark in Indiana’s history. Student test scores have improved by more than 8 percentage points, and Indiana is second in the nation for student performance gains on advanced placement exams.

“We must continue to ensure that more quality educational opportunities are available to students in every area of the state.”

Q. How do the Catholic and other non-public schools contribute to the common good and public instruction?

A. “As an alumnus of [Our Lady of] Providence High School [in Clarksville], Catholic education has had a profound impact on my life.

“This experience is a daily reminder for me that both non-public schools and Catholic schools are integral to the future success of Indiana.

“We are especially indebted to the multitude of great educators that serve in Catholic and non-public schools. There’s nothing more critical than ensuring every Indiana classroom has a great teacher.

“Your system of schools serves students well by sharing this focus and priority.”

Q. How should the State of Indiana protect and promote the right of parents to choose the most appropriate educational opportunity best suited to the needs of their children?

A. “One of the best ways to engage parents in education is through school choice. I want every parent to know that we’re committed to providing families [with] as many high quality school options as possible. We don’t need more of a certain type of schools—we need more good schools, period.

“As Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, I’m committed to promoting and protecting the right of parents to choose the school that best meets their child’s needs.”

Q. What is the proper relationship between the superintendent or Department of Education and non-public schools?

A. “I believe it’s my job to make sure that we have the best education system in the United States for the public of Indiana.

“My definition of public is all 1.2 million Hoosier children. It is not limited exclusively to public schools. It is every child in the State of Indiana who receives an education.

“With that in mind, I do believe that decisions are best made at the local level. It is the state’s job to set high expectations, provide a menu of best practices, explain the consequences for success and failure, and then get out of the way so local schools and educators can get the job done.”

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org. For more information on Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, log on to www.tonybennett2012.com. For more information on Democratic candidate Glenda Ritz, log on to www.ritz4ed.com. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is again offering “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States.” For more information on the document, log on to www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship.)

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