A bill that collects education data under a new state agency — an idea state Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s supporters initially viewed as a power grab — passed the House 89-6 today.

House Bill 1003, authored by Rep. Steve Braun, R-Zionsville, aims to bring together data from K-12 schools, colleges, the state’s workforce development arm and business leaders with the goal of spotting trends and helping schools adapt to employer needs. It was one of several bills that passed the House or Senate and will continue to be considered in the second half of the legislative session beginning next week.

The Indiana State Teachers Association initially criticized the bill for creating what it termed a state “data czar,” who ISTA feared could challenge Ritz’s authority, as head of the Indiana Department of Education, to manage K-12 education data. Ritz has clashed with Gov. Mike Pence over an agency he created, the Center for Education and Career Innovation, arguing the center’s hiring of a separate staff for the Indiana State Board of Education usurped duties assigned to her in law.

Among Ritz’s battles with the state board last fall was a dispute centered on who had authority to issue A to F school grades. The other 10 board members sparked a lawsuit from Ritz, the board’s chair, by writing a letter to legislative leaders asking for their help to issue the grades, which they complained should have been released earlier. Ritz said they were delayed because of testing errors.

Ritz’s suit, which alleged that by crafting the letter the other board members held a secret meeting in violation of state transparency laws, was dismissed because she did not consulted Attorney General Greg Zoeller before filing it. The A to F grades were released in December, nearly two months later than last year.

Braun said the bill was completely unrelated to Ritz’s disagreements with the state board and Gov. Pence.

“It does not change in any way what data is collected by any individual data or how that agency uses that data or will use it in the future,” Braun said during the floor debate.

Democratic House leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, responded that he remained concerned about launching a new agency with a potentially high salary executive director.

“We’re creating a new bureaucrat,” he said. “I think there are probably some laudable goals here. The person is going to be very expensive and they are going to have control over a lot of information.”

Even so, the bill attracted most of his party’s votes.

Other education bills passed today include:

  • State fair absences, Senate Bill 114. Schools will excuse up to three days of absences from school for children participating in the state fair under this bill. Debate centered on whether the decision to excuse absences should be codified in state law or left up to local schools. The bill passed the Senate 28-21.
  • Dropout school funding, Senate Bill 159. The bill addresses funding problems for dropout recovery charter schools. Concerns about rising costs of the fast-growing schools raised alarm in the Senate last year, which decided to temporarily block any new dropout recovery schools from opening. This bill would fund the schools as a separate line item, outside of the K-12 funding formula where they formerly received state aid, and creating an approval process to open new dropout recovery charter schools. The bill passed the Senate 49-0.
  • School debt restructuring, Senate Bill 143. This bill aims to help school districts affected by property tax caps restructure their debt to prevent a loss of state aid to support busing. Changes to school funding to limit property tax increases have depressed transportation funding for some districts. It passed the Senate 49-0.