Majority Republicans in the House and Senate are pushing forward with bills to revamp the Indiana Board of Education and strip power from the state superintendent even as Democrats complain the GOP is only playing politics.
The House is set to vote on a bill that would remove the state superintendent of public instruction – currently Democrat Glenda Ritz – as the board’s automatic chair and let the members select their own leader.
A Senate committee, meanwhile, has passed a similar bill that also changes who appoints the board members. Currently, the governor chooses all the members but the Senate bill gives legislative leaders appointments as well.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the changes are necessary to bring order to a state education board that has often appeared dysfunctional. Ritz and the board members – all appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence – have been at odds since her election.
“After a couple years, there are real problems with the Board of Education,” Long said. “It needs to be changed. It cannot wait.”
Democrats, though, say the proposals are political payback. They say Republicans would not be moving forward with the bills if former Superintendent Tony Bennett had not unexpectedly lost to Ritz in 2012.
“From Day One, this has been about politics, not about education and not about Hoosiers,” Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody said Thursday, just hours before House Republicans turned back Democratic attempts to gut one of the bills.
But House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said later “this is really just trying to get the organization of education governance in Indiana right.”
Indiana is one of just two states that put an elected state superintendent in charge of its education board. Most states have a superintendent appointed by the governor, although there are a number of other governing structures.
Republicans in Indiana say that even though Ritz’s position is an elected one, she’s serving in administrative role. They say only lawmaker and the state education board should be developing education policy.
But House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Republicans are simply creating a “soap opera” so they can strip Ritz of her powers.