A Republican-backed proposal that would allow the Indiana superintendent of public instruction—currently Democrat Glenda Ritz—to be replaced as leader of the state Board of Education advanced Tuesday toward final negotiations in the Indiana Legislature.
House members voted 55-41 to support the measure that would allow the board, which is dominated by appointees of Republican Gov. Mike Pence, to elect its own chairman, ending a decades-old law that made the elected state superintendent the board's leader.
Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Senate moved toward a Wednesday vote on its version of the new two-year state budget by turning down nearly all amendments offered Tuesday by Democrats.
The proposal to allow the replacement of Ritz as the education board leader has sparked some of the most contentious debates during this year's legislative session, but House members voted on it Tuesday after only a brief explanation by the Republican sponsor. Sixteen Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the bill.
House and Senate Republican leaders have been firm in pushing for the change, saying it's needed to address dysfunction between Ritz and other board members as they struggle for control of education policy.
Democrats have maintained that allowing the removal of Ritz as the board leader would undermine the will of voters who elected her in 2012. Ritz would remain head of the state Department of Education but would likely lose some control over the Board of Education's agenda under the Republican proposal.
The Senate has already passed a version of the bill, so now both chambers must sort out differences over who would appoint the education board members.
The board is currently made up of the state superintendent and 10 members appointed by the governor. A Senate-backed plan would shrink it to a nine-member board made up of the state superintendent, four appointments by the governor and one appointment each for the Republican and Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate.
House Republicans have resisted any significant changes to the board makeup, and Speaker Brian Bosma said he expected that will be under discussion as the House and Senate work on a final version by the General Assembly's April 29 adjournment deadline.
Meanwhile, school-funding changes remain a major point of debate as work continues on the new state budget plan.
Republican senators rejected Democratic proposals for boosting how much money goes toward public schools and overseeing growth of the state's private-school voucher program.
One of those proposals called for changing how kindergarteners are counted for school funding. That would have directed about $40 million more per year to districts. The House and Senate plans both call for school funding increases of nearly $470 million over the next two years, with much of that additional money going toward growing suburban districts.
Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian of Portage asked that details on the school voucher program be broken out in the budget plan to make it clear how much is being spent on it. She said that was needed to "ensure that we are not creating an entitlement program that doesn't have any caps."
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, disagreed with that assessment, saying the voucher program isn't taking money away from traditional public schools.
"What we are doing is we are developing a pot of money to fund all of our kids wherever we think they should be going on an equitable basis," he said.