Despite Ritz's pleas, committee passes bill to remove her as chair

An Indiana House committee passed a bill today that would remove the guarantee that state Superintendent Glenda Ritz must chair the Indiana State Board of Education.

House Bill 1609 passed the House Education Committee 8-3 on a party-line vote despite a direct appeal from Ritz and sometimes emotional pleas from her Democratic supporters. It is expected to be voted on by the full House as early as next week.

“This political power move of House Bill 1609 is unnecessary and will do nothing to resolve the real governance issues,” Ritz said. “I urge you to pause this session from assigning changes or any further allocation to the State Board of Education.”

The bill, authored by Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, is part of Gov. Mike Pence’s legislative agenda. It would allow the state board to elect a replacement for Ritz as its chair. State law currently dictates that the state superintendent, who is elected statewide, will chair the board. Ritz, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Indiana, pointed out the state superintendent has chaired the state board for more than 100 years.

Ritz said she agreed with House Bill 1609 supporters that the roles of state leaders in education policy should be clarified. But she proposed a summer study committee to examine the question of what changes are needed.

Her argument found little sympathy among the majority Republicans on the committee.

“We have to do something,” Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, citing the dysfunction of the state board. “To me this is a no-brainer.”

Ritz has frequently been at odds with the rest of the board over procedures, sometimes blocking votes or refusing requests to change the agenda. In a meeting in 2013, Ritz abruptly adjourned a state board meeting and walked out rather than allow a vote on an item she objected to. The board has taken several steps over the past year to limit Ritz’s ability to make decisions about what is placed on the agenda or when votes are taken.

As the conversation was wrapping up so the committee could vote, Rep, Terri Austin, D-Anderson, made a surprising suggestion: she asked McMillin to consider changing the bill to at least allow a co-chair design, with Ritz sharing the role.

“I’ve taught at all levels,” Austin said, with tears in her eyes. “I am saddened by what I see happening. The casualties in the end may cost us more than what we come away with in victory.”

A companion bill, House Bill 1486, which would give the state board, not Ritz or the Indiana Department of Education, authority over testing, standards, student data, state takeover, teacher evaluation and other functions, also passed the committee 9-4.

Other bills passed by the committee included:

  • A bill aimed at informing college students about their loan costs, House Bill 1042.
  • A bill that would require school districts to follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, House Bill 1579. The bill would require districts that don’t follow GAAP to convert by 2018.

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