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House rejects delaying education board control change

April 13, 2015

Republicans in the Indiana House on Monday rejected a series of Democratic-sponsored amendments to a contentious bill that would allow the state Board of Education — currently dominated by appointees of Gov. Mike Pence — to elect its own chairman, ending a decades-old law that automatically made the state superintendent of public instruction the board's leader.

The closest vote came when 11 Republicans sided with Democrats in a 57-36 vote that defeated an amendment that would have pushed back any change in the board leadership until after current Superintendent Glenda Ritz's current elected term ends in early 2017.

Bill supporters say the legislation is needed to address ongoing dysfunction between Ritz — the only Democrat controlling a Statehouse office — and other board members over control of education policy.

House Republicans also voted down Democratic proposals that included the statewide election of Board of Education members and changing the board appointments to four by the governor and four appointments split among the Republican and Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said the proposed amendments addressed who was going to have influence over state education policy.

"Are you going to concentrate the power in Indianapolis, essentially in the governor?" Pierce said. "Or are you going to allow the people to have any little bit of say on how things run around here by allowing their voices to actually matter?"

Democrats have maintained that allowing the removal of Ritz as the board leader would undermine the will of voters who elected her in 2012.

Advocates of allowing any board member to be elected chairman have often said Ritz and Pence's appointees share the blame for the board's disputes over the past two years. But House Republicans have resisted any significant changes to the board makeup.

The bill, which the House could vote on as soon as Tuesday, calls for retaining Ritz and 10 governor's appointments to the board while adding one appointment each by the House and Senate leaders. The two chambers must decide on a single version by the General Assembly's April 29 adjournment deadline.

"I'm sure it will be a topic of discussion through the end of the session," Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said.

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