Pence proposes move to strip Ritz of oversight

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Thursday he will dissolve a controversial education agency he created last year as part of an effort to “restore trust and harmony” with Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.

Pence, a Republican, said he will also ask the General Assembly to let the State Board of Education elect its own chairman, which would essentially oust Ritz, a Democrat, from the position.

“It is time to take the politics out of education in Indiana – or at least out of the State Board of Education – and get back to the business of investing in our schools in ways that prepare our kids for the future that awaits them,” Pence said in a speech to lobbyists and public officials attending the Indiana Legislative Conference in Indianapolis.

Currently, state law assigns the superintendent – who is elected by Hoosiers – to serve as the board chair, although its 10 other members are appointed by the governor.

The moves come after nearly two years of wrangling among Ritz, Pence, the state board members and the staff of his Center for Education & Career Innovation, which has been taking over some functions once reserved for the Department of Education Ritz oversees.

Relationships have become so strained at times that Ritz once walked out of a meeting and also sued her fellow board members when they took action without her knowledge.

In a statement on Thursday, Ritz said she welcomed news that the governor will eliminate the Center for Education & Career Innovation. She called the move “another sign of the great work that is happening in our schools throughout Indiana and the Department of Education every day.”

But she said there are “other aspects of the governor’s legislative agenda that are concerning for public education in our state.”

Pence’s moves are part of a larger education agenda for the 2015 legislative session that also includes boosting funding for K-12 education, although Pence wouldn’t say how much. And he emphasized that more money overall won’t solve the state’s schools problems.

He wants to shorten the time a school can be failing before the state intervenes and extend a pilot program for pre-kindergarten programs for two more years.

“This is about the kids. This is about their future,” he said. “Let’s stay focused on the kids.”

On Wednesday, the Board of Education passed new rules that wrest more control over the process for taking over failing schools from Ritz. And board members said they will ask the state legislature to give it broader powers to take over more troubled schools, and even school districts.

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