Gov. Mike Pence on Dec. 4 said he would close down an agency he created to circumvent the state Board of Education and ask the General Assembly to give board members the ability to elect their own chair.
Neither the executive order to end the Center for Education & Career Innovation nor allowing the reform-minded board to marginalize the existing chairwoman, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, fixes the root of the bickering that has marred public education since Ritz, a Democrat, upset incumbent Republican Tony Bennett in 2012.
But rather than making that changeover in two years, as the Indiana Chamber of Commerce proposes, the Legislature should make it effective in 2020—one election cycle removed from 2016.
The delay would give Ritz a chance to seek re-election. And assuming Pence opts to run again and wins re-election, term limits ensure he wouldn’t be the governor making the appointment in six years. That separation would wipe out the perception of political payback.
The ongoing conflicts over grading school performance have been some of the most destructive in state politics. The parties began squabbling months after Ritz took office, and Pence’s new push to give state Board of Education members authority to appoint the chair will further inflame her supporters, who correctly argue that she won over voters fair and square.
Last year, Ritz stormed out of a meeting and even sued the board. Just this month the board wrested from Ritz more control over the process for taking over troubled schools.
The losers in this circus are the children. They need the Legislature to step in with a direct fix.
Education is the only department in the state led by someone elected separately from the governor. Imagine Hoosiers electing administrators to run corrections or the Department of Environmental Management.
Appointment has had bipartisan support. Susan Williams, a former Democratic city-county councilor, ran for superintendent in 2004 promising to resign and let the winner of that year’s governor’s race, Democratic incumbent Joe Kernan or Daniels, replace her.
Appointment also was recommended as far back as 1948 by the Indiana School Study Commission, a who’s who in education formed to decide how to educate the baby boom generation.
Voters must be assured that the public officials they choose are able to carry out policy decisions. Bringing education under control of the governor would make the governor responsible for results at public schools. And it was demand for results that gave rise to the reform movement.
Measures passed by the Legislature normally go into effect July 1. In this case, there is good reason to delay the impact of a good idea.•
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