The question about Mayor-elect Joe Hogsett, who cruised to an easy defeat of Chuck Brewer Tuesday, that people in education in the city want answered is pretty simple: what kind of Democrat will he be?
Will Hogsett be a “new” Democrat in the mold of former Mayor Bart Peterson and continue what Peterson began 15 years ago — a consistent stretch of education policy that favors opening new charter schools and change in Indianapolis Public Schools?
Or will he prove to be a traditional Democrat, standing with unions, party leaders and most Democrats who see charter schools and other reform efforts as an attack on working class teachers and other school employees or an effort to create a pathway for companies to profit from education?
Hogsett defeated Brewer easily Tuesday, returning the mayor’s office to Democratic control for the first time in eight years when Mayor Greg Ballard leaves office in January.
But in a campaign that focused on crime and other issues, with education mostly in the background, Hogsett straddled the fence between the two Democratic camps on school issues.
Hogsett likes to point out that he represented the Indiana State Teachers Association early in his career as an attorney, and several unions gave his campaign $10,000 or more. But he has strong ties to Peterson allies, some of whom have pushed to expand charter schools and make other changes in education since the end of his second term in 2008. Peterson himself even contributed $10,500 to Hogsett’s campaign.
His five-point education plan focused on issues that sound more traditional than reform-oriented: Studying ways to reduce the impact of poverty on schools, expanding state-supported preschool for poor children, launching a mentoring program for kids, selling city-owned homes for little or no cost to teachers and working to ensure discipline in schools is fair to children of all races.
Hogsett also told Chalkbeat last year he saw the mayor’s role as more of a “convener” than an activist and thought the scope of the mayor’s education policy should focus less on Indianapolis Public Schools and draw in township schools more often.
But in the same interview, Hogsett heaped praise on IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee for embracing bold ideas, some of which have angered teachers unions and other traditional Democrats. Ferebee has forged a series of partnerships with charter schools and has called for tougher teacher evaluation in the district, for example.
Hogsett said his top priorities were teacher pay and teacher quality. He said he supported the charter schools that Peterson and Ballard helped launch since 2002, but he also called for tough accountability for charter schools that fail. He was not enthusiastic about public funding of private school tuition through vouchers.
Last week he called for improved communication from IPS in the wake of recent decisions to close Key Learning Community School and shift programs at two other schools that angered parents who said they were not told about the plan before it was publicly discussed.