Sparks gives up his weekends for the campaign, going to
spaghetti dinner and pancake breakfast fundraisers all over the district.
At a Hendricksville, Ind., chili cook-off two and a half
weeks before the election, Sparks, Greene County Recorder incumbent Stuart
Dowden and sheriff candidate Josh Goodman talk about surprises of campaigning,
like how much money it takes to win.
Ubelhor, the District 62 incumbent and Sparks’ opponent
again this year, spent about $134,100 in the 2012 election, according to
campaign finance reports. Sparks, an unknown, spent about $30,500.
Sparks and Indiana Democrats spent more than three times as
much on the 2014 campaign. Ubelhor’s final campaign spending totals were about
$129,500 as of Oct. 10 campaign finance reports, not including spending in the
last month of the campaign. Sparks’ campaign spent more than $96,600 on ads and
staff by that time.
“With what I’m spending and they’re chipping in, I could
hire three teachers at Linton,” Sparks tells Goodman and Dowden.
Sparks and similar candidates, largely Democrat, are against
the state voucher program that lets parents apply for tuition funds to send
their children in grades one through eight to a different school. Up to $4,800
could be transferred from a students’ assigned public school to their parents’
choice of school, usually a private or charter.
Sparks says the state can’t support three school systems.
Money that goes to charter or private schools could be funding a full-time
librarian for Linton-Stockton Junior High.
Supporters say Indiana’s school voucher system, the most
flexible in the country according to the Center for Education Reform, allows
parents to choose the best schools for their children without worrying about
Sparks’ district is mostly Greene County, with a chunk of
Monroe. Jim Mann of District 46 and Daymon Brodhacker of District 60 also
campaigned in Monroe County.
At a public forum debate all three men attended, Mann, a
high school government teacher from Terre Haute, loudly condemned teaching to
the test, a common refrain of educators. Since the No Child Left Behind Act
passed in 2001, schools’ and teachers’ effectiveness is judged partly by how
many students pass the state standardized test and improve their scores.
Belinda Sanders, a language arts teacher at Linton-Stockton
Junior High, said she feels she has to omit skills like public speaking from
her curriculum because they’re not included on ISTEP.
“The state tries to control too much,” she said. “I feel
like I’m leaving some things out that will be important down the road.”
Indiana has a waiver that allows some flexibility on NCLB
requirements, but the state must administer the federally-approved Indiana
Statewide Testing for Educational Progress Plus test to grades three through
eight to measure language arts and math skills. Schools that don’t pass enough
students can lose funding and are placed on a state watchlist.
Sparks’ school received a D grade from the state from 2011
to 2013 and an A in 2014, keeping it off the Priority Schools list.
After six failing grades in a row, the state can take
control of a school from its district and turn it over to a contractor, which
has happened to schools in Indianapolis and Gary. The SBOE approved a
legislative agenda at their Dec. 3 meeting that includes a proposal to shorten
that period to four consecutive failing grades. It could catch chronically
failing schools and districts earlier, board members said.
“One of the flaws of intervening in high schools is that
students just didn’t begin falling behind at grade nine,” SBOE member Dan
Elsener said in a press release. “We need a systemic approach to fix a
struggling school district.”