Tensions between Superintendent Glenda Ritz and the rest of the State Board of Education escalated in the latter half of 2013 after Gov. Mike Pence announced the creation of a new agency to coordinate workforce development efforts in the state.
Squabbles between Ritz and the new Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI) were front and center at State Board meetings. In October, the 10 appointed members sent a letter to legislative leaders accusing the Department of Education of delaying the release of A-F grades, triggering a lawsuit. The next month, Ritz walked out of a public meeting without adjourning it. And she called the creation of CECI a power grab.
Democrats and Ritz allies predict a move to strip Ritz of her authority as chairwoman of the State Board in the coming year. But as we gaze into the StateImpact crystal ball, we’re not so sure.
As 2013 comes to a close, we’ve made a few predictions about where some major education issues are headed in 2014 and added a list of stories we’ll be covering in the coming year.
- State Board of Education — We think Glenda Ritz can keep her official role as chairwoman barring major political shifts in the coming months, despite her supporters’ worst fears. Disagreements on the panel may flare again, leaving Ritz on the losing end of some board votes. But the two sides cordially agreed to new operating procedures Dec. 20 that give Pence’s appointees more leverage to add items to the agenda, one of CECI’s chief complaints with the superintendent. There are still some details to work out, such as who chairs the board in Ritz’s absence. With legislative leaders threatening to intervene if members can’t come to a consensus, there’s an incentive for both sides to work together.
- Common Core — Indiana is halfway through a year-long “pause” as state education officials review the academic standards adopted in 2010. A legislative panel took more than 20 hours of testimony this summer, but in the end only Republicans felt the state should leave the Common Core initiative. So now the question goes to the State Board, which includes a majority of members who voted in favor of the academic standards three and a half years ago. We predict they’ll vote to add additional expectations to the Common Core (states can add up to 15 percent more standards) in an effort to keep the initiative in Indiana. But that compromise is unlikely to sit well with Republican lawmakers who want fully independent standards. We again expect anti-Common Core legislation forcing Indiana’s withdrawal to be introduced — and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, says he won’t rule it out.
- Early Childhood Education — Pence and other legislative leaders say finding state money to pay for pre-K is a priority in 2014. The governor’s express support makes a difference, to be sure. But this isn’t the first time there’s been broad support for preschool at the beginning of the session and last year state lawmakers balked at spending $7 million on a small-scale pilot program (our math puts the cost of a pre-K voucher program for low-income students between $50 and $100 million). Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, says conversations about how to pay for preschool are really just beginning. It took the state a decade to allot money for all-day kindergarten. So we predict some good conversations about pre-K, but we’re skeptical Indiana is ready to fund Pence’s voucher proposal.
Stories To Watch
- Property taxes — Phasing out a business equipment tax is Pence’s No. 1 legislative priority. He says it’s a priority for economic development, as neighboring states have either lowered business personal property tax rates or eliminated them altogether. But getting rid of the tax will cut revenue to local municipalities and schools, many of which have already lost funding to property tax caps.
- REPA III — A controversial package of teacher licensure rules will be back in the headlines. Former state superintendent Tony Bennett shepherded REPA II through the State Board after he lost his re-election bid. But the attorney general wouldn’t sign off on the last-minute changes board members members approved. Public hearings on the new rules are set for January.
- Takeovers — The five schools the state took over in 2012 again received F’s this year, which could influence the State Board as it determines what to do with an Evansville school also at risk of takeover. School officials have already implemented a turnaround plan for Glenwood Leadership Academy they hope the state will leave largely intact.
- Vouchers — State lawmakers voted to expand the state’s Choice Scholarship program in the spring, making more students eligible to receive tuition support to attend private school. The cap on the number of students who could receive vouchers also lifted this year. Though the program has been growing steadily, participation could drop off if the state’s private schools reach capacity. Fourth year voucher numbers will give us an idea of what’s next.