Indiana Legislature Votes to Limit Ritz’s Involvement


Lawmakers in Indiana have approved an overhaul of the State Board of Education that would bring an end to superintendent Glenda Ritz serving as chair.

As the 2015 session came to an end, lawmakers approved a measure that would allow Ritz to remain in her position as state superintendent of public instruction through the 2016 election.  At that time, she will be replaced by someone appointed by the governor.  For now, lawmakers looked to limit her authority through such actions as giving a board vice chairman joint responsibility for the agenda of the panel.

The bill was referred to by House Majority Leader Jud McMillin as a compromise that hopes to improve cooperation between board members and the Department of Education, writes Tom LoBianco for The Indy Star.

“Those entities have to be able to communicate effectively to make sure our children are best served by the policies that are implemented by this body are able to be passed along to schools,” McMillin said.

The measure passed in the House in a 61-37 vote and the Senate with a 31-17 vote.  In both cases, a number of Republicans voted with Democrats in opposition.

The new board will contain 11 people to be chosen later this year, including 8 appointed by the governor and representative members of the House, the Senate and the state schools superintendent.

Meanwhile, Democrats argued that the move goes against small-government principles.

“We’re taking the State Board of Education and making it the de facto Department of Education,” House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Wednesday night. “That, I promise you, the people of Indiana don’t want two departments of education.”

In another end-of-session move, lawmakers approved a second measure that would take authority over development of the ISTEP state standardized exam, as well as a new $10 million charter schools grant fund, from Ritz and give it to the State Board of Education.

Ritz responded by saying she may be running for governor in 2016, adding that the attempts to strip her power have made the choice her best option to fight back.

“After this session, there’s absolutely nothing off the table,” Ritz told reporters Thursday. “The first priority is getting through this school year. But after that I’m going to sit down with my family to determine what’s best for the children and families of Indiana.”

Just before the session ended, lawmakers also approved a $31 billion, two-year state budget, which included a 2.3% increase in school funding.  That increase will allow more money to go toward schools located in growing urban communities, while urban and rural districts with dwindling enrollment will see cuts being made.

In addition, the $4,800 per elementary school student cap will be lifted for students enrolled in the state’s private school voucher program.