Pence signs bill that will change the Indiana State Board of Education

Gov. Mike Pence made it official today: the Indiana State Board of Education is getting an overhaul.

Pence announced he has signed Senate Bill 1, which passed over the objections of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, Democrats and her other supporters.

“This law represents a good faith effort to reform the Indiana State Board of Education so it can better serve our students, parents, teachers and administrators,” Pence said in a statement, “and I am pleased to sign it into law.”

Ritz was most unhappy that the bill strips from state law the guarantee that the state superintendent also chairs the state board. But late changes to the bill gave her a reprieve: it allows her to remain as chairwoman until her term ends in 2016. After that, the 11-member board will vote to decide who serves as their leader.

Pence made Senate Bill 1 a top priority, arguing that it was needed to reduce dysfunction on a board that has often become mired in debates about its own procedures.

At times, Ritz used her power as chairwoman to add items to the agenda on issues she preferred to discuss and deny motions she disagreed with. But the board has since rewritten its rules to limit her control over the agenda and her power to deny motions.

But if Pence, who has been at odds with Ritz over education policy since both were elected in 2012, won a victory for his 2015 education agenda by signing the bill, he also lost something.

During debate on the bill, the legislature added a provision Pence did not ask for that reduced the number of board members he appoints from 10 to eight. The other two board members now will be appointed by the speaker of the House and president of the Senate.

Because of the change in appointing powers, the bill also calls for an unusual change in protocol: all 10 board seats, besides Ritz’s, must be appointed by the end of this month.

That means some current board members almost certainly will be replaced. How many will be reappointed and how many will go is yet to be revealed.

Pence had little to say today about who he would appoint. Several board members have explicitly asked to stay on, including Brad Oliver, David Freitas, Gordon Hendry and Cari Whicker.

But by the time the board meets next on June 3, there could be several new faces — perhaps even a majority of the board members.

After today’s board meeting, Ritz made the case that the board has accomplished a lot in the past year despite its many disagreements. She cited its establishment of new academic standards, a revamping of the state testing system and changes to the A-to-F school grading process, which the board approved today.

But even if there are changes to the board, Ritz said, progress would continue.

“Board members are board members, so I’ll work with the board,” Ritz said. “That’s my way of getting things accomplished.”