Bennett, 51, from New Albany, has been a classroom teacher, school administrator, and basketball coach. He describes himself as competitive and impatient – and also misunderstood. He regrets he’s been portrayed by opponents as someone who doesn’t value teachers or public education.
“That’s a caricature of me they drew, that I allowed them to draw,” Bennett said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Ritz and Bennett also differ on how they’d spend the next four years, if elected.
Ritz believes Bennett and the state Department of Education, which he oversees, have overstepped with aggressive implementation of the education-reform legislation passed over the past four years.
If elected, she said, she’d do whatever she could to slow down the education overhaul and have the DOE work with every school district in the state on a comprehensive assessment of how schools and students have been impacted by all the changes.
“The policies out of the Statehouse have been one-size-fits-alls,” Ritz said. “It’s been: ‘Here are the policies. Here are the mandates. Now get it done.’”
Bennett disagrees. He acknowledges that the state has set new standards for students’ academic performance, teacher evaluations and other measures. “But how schools reach those standards are up to them,” he said.
If re-elected, Bennett said, he’d oppose any effort to slow down implementation of the major reforms. “Lack of implementation is the death of reform,” he said.
Another major difference is the size of their campaigns’ war chest.
The latest campaign financial reports (released in mid-October) show Bennett’s campaign has raised more than $1.3 million, with some of that money coming from big-ticket donors who’ve supported similar education changes like that going in Indiana. That includes $200,000 from Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, and $40,000 from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Ritz’s campaign, in comparison, had raised less than $224,000, with much of that money coming from teachers’ unions political action committees and from small individual donors.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org