May 2, 2024

Here’s how Indiana’s GOP candidates for governor say they would change education

Indiana's six Republican candidates for governor in 2024 are, from left to right, Eric Doden, Brad Chambers, Mike Braun, Suzanne Crouch, Curtis Hill and Jamie Reitenour. - Brandon Smith / IPB News

Indiana's six Republican candidates for governor in 2024 are, from left to right, Eric Doden, Brad Chambers, Mike Braun, Suzanne Crouch, Curtis Hill and Jamie Reitenour.

Brandon Smith / IPB News

When Indiana voters head to the ballot box in November, they will select a leader to replace outgoing Gov. Eric Holcomb and take control of the state’s education priorities.

The next governor will oversee a state budget with nearly half the funds directed to K-12 schools, and have the power to appoint a secretary of education who operates the Department of Education and sits on the policy-making State Board of Education. 

Ahead of the May 7 primary, WFYI asked all Republican candidates for governor five questions about topics from early childhood education priorities to leadership of the Department of Education. Read responses from the sole Democratic candidate for governor here.

They all have different plans for educating the state’s children. Here’s how they responded.

Answers were limited to 200 words and edited for length and clarity.

If elected, your office could change the Department of Education’s direction, and even its leader. If necessary, how would you alter its path? 

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.): As Governor, I will look at every department on how it can be run more efficiently.  I will ensure the superintendent has the same passion for making the necessary changes to increase reading proficiency and better prepare our students for life after graduation.

Brad Chambers: We’ll build a department of education centered on the priorities outlined in our “Learn More, Earn More” plan — a department that will address our educational challenges with urgency and aspiration so we can maximize the potential of every Hoosier student. 

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch: It is past time for us to have an honest and critical discussion about how we are going to educate our children in the 21st century, and to do that we need to reform education.

By reforming, I will take the five agencies that deal with education and workforce development and reduce them to one.

We will concentrate the state’s efforts to prepare children for enlistment, enrollment, employment, or apprenticeship.

By modernizing education, we will implement efficiencies and cost savings that will help offset any additional costs associated with educational choice. The investment will be worth it.

My secretary of education will help lead these efforts.

Eric Doden: As governor, every department head in our administration would have to reapply for their job, including the state superintendent. At the Department of Education, there needs to be a leader who believes in our vision for excellence in education for Hoosier kids: We need to keep leading on school choice. 

Parents have told me that they want curriculums to be completely transparent so there can be more accountability. We need to retain and recruit great teachers – by increasing their pay. Finally, we need vocational education and flexibility for high schoolers and universal pre-K.

At the end of the day, every Hoosier shares a belief in our moral, and constitutional, obligation to provide our kids with a great education.

Curtis Hill: The Department of Education is a bloated bureaucracy that will be streamlined into data-driven support for Indiana schools. We are motivated to identify successes and failures and produce answers so we don't have to wonder every legislative session.

Jamie Reitenour: I’ve chosen my Superintendent of Public Education to be Paige Miller, a 30-year veteran teacher. Miller leads Hamilton County’s chapter of Moms for Liberty. Miller not only brings a successful teacher’s perspective to developing high quality educational policy, but she has witnessed, firsthand, the decline of quality and outcomes when school improvement plans and other goals include non-academic ideologies like social and emotional learning and critical race theory.

Under Miller’s direction, a Reitenour Administration Department of Education will root out those peripheral teachings, curriculums, and programs that undermine parental rights and distract student academic learning. We will incentivize teachers through their students’ academic achievement, but also provide the tools, monitoring, and support necessary for them to be successful in this pursuit. 

Our Department of Education will not be the top-heavy, bureaucratic agency that it has become under establishment Republican administrations, but will provide boots-on-the-ground support to school districts and teachers for quicker identification and resolution of challenges and concerns in schools.

Gov. Eric Holcomb along with state lawmakers launched educators into an overhaul of how children learn to read. Holcomb set a goal to have 95 percent of third grade students pass the state’s reading test by 2027. Under your administration, what literacy initiatives would you support? 

Braun: Braun said Indiana spends over 50 percent of the state’s budget on K-12 education. But lawmakers earmark 47 percent on K-12 education for the current two-year budget

We need to make sure our children both read and write and support this effort to have our third graders pass a basic reading test.

Chambers: It’s unacceptable that one in five Hoosier third graders lack foundational reading skills because we know they’re four times more likely to drop out of school altogether. 

In a Chambers administration, we’ll push for the adoption of new technologies so we can individualize education and teach our students in a way best suited for them and place a focus on combating chronic absenteeism to ensure our students are in the classroom learning. We’ll also ensure our struggling students have access to more literacy resources, including those made available by the state legislature this past session.

We owe it to our students to ensure they are mastering the foundational skill of reading.

Crouch: Crouch said her administration’s policies will be rooted in reading, writing, arithmetic and reasoning.

Reading is the key to all learning.  If a child cannot read by third grade, they will struggle through school and life.  It’s critical to prepare our children for success.  We will identify those children who are struggling in second grade and get them help so they can pass the reading test in third grade and move on with their peers.

We will teach our children how to think, not what to think.

Doden: This literacy statistic is one piece of the larger challenge: Hoosier kids are not getting the education they need. As a conservative, I believe there are commonsense solutions that can turn this around and give every child access to a quality education – in either a public or private school. 

First, parents must have the freedom of school choice. Indiana has been a leader in school choice, and as Governor, I will protect and promote educational freedom for Indiana families, especially for disadvantaged students trapped in failing schools.

Second, politics does not belong anywhere near the classroom. We must let teachers teach and parents parent. As governor, I’ll ensure curriculum transparency so that every parent has access to what their kids are being taught.

Education built America into the most prosperous nation in history. With smart reforms focused on empowering parents, removing politics, supporting teachers, and prioritizing early education, conservatives can help get America's schools back on track. 

Doden said Indiana needs to retain and recruit great teachers. Doden’s plan would expand teacher pay, “remove divisive politics” and provide tax relief to address this teacher shortage crisis. 

Hill: I will support the science of reading curriculum as the basis for reading instruction. As important as it is to have the right reading curriculum, it’s equally important to provide the right learning environment free of distractions and encourage parents to actively participate in the education of their children.

Hill said this effort will build an expectation of parents being responsible for their child’s learning. 

Reitenour: Reitenour said schools will adopt curriculum aligned with phonemic awareness and phonics. 

We will also add another important requirement for our schools – progress monitoring. We will offer acceptable options that will allow teachers to make strategic decisions to promote reading skills to all of their students.

Schools will be required to turn in school improvement plans that will focus solely on academic goals. We believe that this approach will improve literacy among our students, but we will be on the ground, observing, and quick to address any concerns or challenges that teachers or schools encounter toward achievement targets and improvement goals. 

Democratic state lawmakers have proposed investments in early childhood education, specifically universal pre-K, as a means to curb the state’s reading crisis in addition to other bipartisan changes like teaching the science of reading. What’s your plan for educating the state’s youngest children?

Braun: Braun did not submit an answer to this question.

Chambers: Indiana is facing challenges not only with early childhood education but also the availability of quality and affordable child care. Hoosier parents are vital to our workforce, and an investment in our youngest Hoosiers is the best investment we can make. 

In a Chambers administration, we’ll explore strategic expansions of all-day pre-K for three- and four-year-old’s, including potentially increasing the income eligibility level for state-funded pre-K programs, and create a state-level childcare tax credit that requires recipients to work to be eligible to receive it. 

Chambers said he will reevaluate “bureaucratic red tape” to childcare and early childhood education while evaluating incentives for employer child care solutions.

Crouch: Crouch said she would work to have more children enroll in the state’s pre-K program, On My Way Pre-K.

We can't get there overnight because, quite honestly, we don't have the infrastructure or the people to be able to do that. But I think, because of the importance of early childhood education to the workforce of today and tomorrow, it's vital that we work towards universal access for Hoosier schoolchildren.

Doden: Doden supports a universal pre-K program for all children to have access to early learning

Despite continued nominal increases in funding for K-12 education in Indiana, pre-K programming is not accessible for many Hoosier families and their kids. While state-funded attempts to begin a pre-K program have shown early success, particularly in the areas of literacy and general school readiness, the program has been limited by factors including geography and family income.  

Our universal pre-K program will help Hoosier families struggling with the increasing costs of childcare and help children learn early literacy skills.

Students attending pre-K consistently show better performance on grade school tests, stay in school longer, experience lower rates of depression, have better physical health, and have higher earnings when they become adults. 

Funding pre-K is not only good for Hoosier kids, it’s a financially prudent investment for the state because of the return it creates. 

Hill: Hill said parents should be informed so that they can choose opportunities for their child. 

If the quality of the education isn’t good, it doesn’t matter how early you start it.

Parents who want their children to have an early start on education want that start to be high-quality. 

By keeping taxes low and reducing child care regulations and restrictions, parents will have greater control and flexibility over childcare/daycare educational benefits to their children.

Reitenour: Universal pre-K is a simple suggestion to a complex issue that is often blurted out as a one-size-fits-all solution that forgets the thousands of early childhood programs that have come before it and continue to operate in Indiana today. Our greatest hope for our youngest children’s foundational preparedness is to support the family in its crucial role as a child’s first and forever teacher.

The reality is that a very young child’s healthy growth and development happens at home, and the public education system will never be able to fully make up for essential developmental milestones that were missed. 

However, it is our responsibility to ensure that our pre-K, Kindergarten, and lower elementary teachers are licensed and proficient in their craft as early childhood educators, and concerned about each child’s whole development. Developmental deficiencies are not new to these teachers, and they can make up ground quickly. 

Young children do not need to be distracted by technology in the classroom or by new-aged ideologies, so that is why our plan for elementary school focuses on back-to-basics academic foundations. We will use quality assessments and individualized interventions to ensure young students meet appropriate developmental milestones for higher learning readiness.

Recent data from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education shows less high school students in Indiana are choosing to pursue post-secondary education with 47 percent of 2021 graduates not enrolling in college altogether.  Those bleak rates could mean a need for innovation in what’s offered to students in high school. What, if anything, should Indiana need to invest in?

Braun: Indiana needs to do a better job preparing our students for college, as well as technical degrees or the ability to enter the workforce immediately.

For those who decide against a higher education, we need to make sure they are prepared so they can work and be successful.  

Chambers: For too long, Indiana, and indeed the country, promoted only higher education and a four-year degree to high school students. We can and should equally promote both four-year degrees and skill-based learning that can lead to the pursuit of a career in the building trades, a two-year degree, credential or certificate because we know each student is unique. 

We’ll invest in the creation of clear career pathways made available to our students beginning in the seventh grade to help them understand all the ways they can earn a good living and build a great life through high wages right here in Indiana. One of those pathways will be a civics pathway, where students can gain skills and knowledge to prepare them to serve their communities as a police officer, firefighter or EMT.

We must transform our educational system and invest more than we do today, because nothing can replace the value and opportunities that come from a great education.

Crouch: My plan is to revamp our education system with an emphasis on preparing our students for enrollment, enlistment, employment, or apprenticeship. We must prepare our children for the jobs of the future and align our workforce training curriculum with current and future market demands. 

As governor, I will work with our institutions of higher education to incent high school seniors to attend Indiana colleges and universities because 70 percent of them will stay in Indiana upon graduation.

Doden: Conservatives should make the beginning and end of public school the next focus of education reform by providing innovative and local approaches to early education and the transition out of high school. 

As Governor, we will provide state matching funds for any community that wants to create high quality pre-K programs for 4 year olds. By incentivizing local collaboration, innovation, and investment, we will foster community-based solutions that will neither break our state's budget nor dictate one-size-fits-all approaches to local communities. 

At the same time, we need to better support students in their final year of high school to ensure college or career readiness. As Governor, I will support funding collaborative partnerships between public, private, and philanthropic organizations to create new models, like gap-year programs and local job training and apprenticeship opportunities, to help students transition successfully to college or a career post-graduation.

Hill: There is nothing more bleak than a college graduate with a degree that is worthless and $200,000 in debt. College is not for everyone, nor should it be. Recognizing the value of not going to college is becoming more and more valuable. 

We should continue to encourage children at an early age to consider the importance of work in many fields of endeavor, including military service as an exciting career option.

Reitenour: My entire education plan is based on early learning of basic academic skills and then tailored programs for our kids’ unique giftedness to be harnessed into a vision for their futures, whether it is skilled work, advanced education, military service, or other creative endeavors. 

A one-size-fits-all approach is not the educational solution to students achieving their own personal bests. We will not push students down the same path, higher education, when it is not suitable for them.

In considering alternatives for their futures, our students need to learn from the cherished Hoosiers who have been in their shoes. U.S. Veterans will have opportunities to speak about freedom, patriotism, and military service to our students. 

Private sector leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners have much to offer our students, and much to gain from our state’s future workforce. They will engage from 6th grade technology and innovation “adopt-a-classroom” to approved senior year apprenticeship programs. 

With this vision for Indiana’s public education, we will become the training capital of the United States, and we will place students in paths for which they are well-suited and prepared!

Holcomb sought to increase teacher pay with the goal of raising the state’s average to $60,000 before he leaves office this year. Lawmakers brought up the bottom line for teachers’ salaries. What should take place so school districts are able to recruit and retain educators in the state?

Braun: Braun said Indiana spends over 50 percent of the state’s budget on K-12 education. But lawmakers earmark 47 percent on K-12 education for the current two-year budget

Making sure these dollars find the classroom, instead of administrative costs, will help in recruiting and retaining our best educators.   

Chambers: Teaching is an important profession — one that is essential to our social and economic futures. Teachers must be paid more than they earn today, and their pay should be based on their performance in the classroom and the outcome of their efforts, not simply on the length of their tenure. 

Teachers who work hard and improve education outcomes must be able to earn a higher salary faster and earlier in their careers; the current system, which bases pay on tenure, is unfair to new and high-performing teachers. Additionally, teachers in high-demand subjects, such as STEM subjects, should be able to earn higher salaries so schools can compete with other employment opportunities for the best talent. 

Crouch: I support the goal to increase the average teacher salary to $60,000 (which will bring Indiana closer to the national average). Beyond the mere financial benefits of increased pay, a greater investment will value our teachers and their crucial role in preparing our children for the future.

Beyond pay, however, our teachers must have a seat at the table as we create a lifetime education model for Hoosiers. As governor, I will ask teachers and parents for their advice, counsel, and ideas as it relates to preparing our children for college, the military, their careers, or workforce training.

As a result of my education reforms, we will be able to direct more money to the classroom and less to administration.

Doden: Education is enshrined in Indiana’s constitution as a priority for very good reasons. Any state that strives for excellence must invest in educating its population. Unfortunately, many of our best teachers are moving on. 

Currently, there are thousands of teaching vacancies across Indiana and fewer than 15 percent of our teachers are under the age of 30. Our Teacher Investment Program would attract and retain teaching talent by eliminating the state income tax for Hoosier educators.

This approach will put money back in the pockets of teachers, where it is intended, rather than in the hands of bureaucrats or teachers unions.

Hill: Increasing starting pay and average pay, along with increases for continuing development, is just the beginning of enhancing the teacher experience to improve hiring and retention. 

Teachers must be provided more time within the school day for non instructional prep to limit the amount of personal and family time given up. Teachers need to be guaranteed administrative support and management of behavioral problems in the classroom.

Reitenour: I want the teachers in Indiana to know that I see them, I appreciate all that they do, and that hard work pays off for both our kids and teachers. Excellent educators must be compensated for retention and starting pay must be competitive to attract young talent. 

However, across-the-board pay increases do not improve our children’s educational outcomes or challenge teachers to seek out approaches that produce results. 

We will set incentive pay standards for teachers and districts meeting their school improvement plan goals. Importantly, these opportunities are normalized on the unique starting points and challenges of each school. 

Outcomes do not need to be the same for all schools and classrooms, but the expectation of academic excellence and progress toward it are wonderful incentives for our teachers and wonderful benefits for our kids’ futures. 

Reitenour’s Indiana Goodness Education plan includes a high school initiative about students choosing college, career or calling and senior year apprenticeships. These will drive our ability to close workforce shortage gaps, like pilots and trades, with the students who have worked toward those professions. 

Providing vision to the next generation shapes Indiana’s future workforce, while saving secondary education spending that can be reallocated to teacher incentive pay.

Rachel Fradette is the WFYI Statehouse education reporter. Contact Rachel at


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