Indiana Bill to Remove Board Chair Ritz Advances to Senate

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Indiana House lawmakers have approved a measure that would in effect remove Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz from her position as chair of the State Board of Education.

House Bill 1609 would allow the 10 members of the board, each of whom have been appointed by the governor, to choose a new chairman.

Despite feelings by Democrats that the move is a play for power, Rep. Jud McMillin remains confident that the bill is “not an attack on democracy,” but merely an effort to ensure the State Board of Education has a functional governance procedure.

“This is certainly one of the most embarrassing bills of the session,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. “This is an example of what happens when somebody runs afoul of the politburo. Superintendent Ritz was independently elected; she got more votes than Governor Pence. The people who put her in office expected that she would slow down the runaway train of education experiments that came straight out of Washington, D.C.”

House Majority Speaker Brian Bosma approves the bill, claiming that education issues in the state are “dysfunctional and detrimental to students,” and that all the problems begin with Ritz.

The bill passed 58-40 and is on its way to the Senate for consideration.

The debate over the bill comes at the same times as Governor Mike Pence attempted to force the superintendent to shorten the amount of time needed to take the state’s ISTEP test.  Currently the law does not afford the governor that authority.

The test is expected to increase in length from 5 hours 9 minutes to 12 hours and 30 minutes this spring.

The Governor’s order would ask the Office of Management and Budget to hire an outside consultant to determine which portions of the test could be taken off while still ensuring the test remains up to federal standards.  However, it is unclear as to whether or not those recommendations would come in time to effect testing this spring, which is set to begin February 25, writes Christin Nance Lazerus for The Chicago Tribune.

The testing problems were considered by the bill’s supporters to be additional evidence that Ritz needed to be removed from her position as board chair.  According to Bosma, Ritz had never spoken to the governor’s staff, or any leaders, pertaining to the new ISTEP test.  By the time the lengthy testing time was discovered, it was too late in the process to make changes.

Not everyone agrees with the move.  Scores of angry teachers and Democrats took to Twitter over the weekend, using the hashtag #IStandWithRitz, accusing Pence and House Republicans of going around voters who had supported Ritz during the 2012 election, writes Tom LoBianco for IndyStar.

In addition to the new bill, the House is also considering legislation that would shift some of the responsibilities and monies handled by the Department of Education over to the board.