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Proposed Legislation Would Strip Superintendent Of Many Powers

glenda ritz

The state's superintendent of schools has automatically served as the chair of the Indiana State Board of Education for 100 years. But that could change if proposed legislation passes to allow the State Board to elect one of its members to serve as chair.

This week on Noon Edition, we'll discuss what this means for current Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

Some say this a partisan effort to strip Ritz, the only Democrat elected to a statewide office, of some of her powers.


  • John Barnes, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Indiana Department of Education
  • Cathy Fuentes-Rowher, Head of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education and a Bloomington mom
  • Steve Hinnefeld, longtime education blogger and former reporter at the Bloomington Herald-Times

Here are five questions we received during our discussion:

Q: Is this a "witch hunt" to strip State Superintendent Glenda Ritz of her power?

That's open to interpretation. With respect to various items of legislation that propose allowing the State Board of Education to elect its own chair – rather than allow the superintendent to automatically assume that position, as is customary – Republicans tend to be in favor, citing an attempt to make the board functional again.

On the other hand, Democrats generally see it as a power grab.

Q: How much of the ISTEP+ issue is the result of board dysfunction?

As with almost any issue of education policy in Indiana these days, board dynamics play a part – but there's a bigger issue at hand.

When Indiana pulled out of the Common Core and developed state-specific standards last April, the feds required state officials to create a new statewide assessment to evaluate how well students are learning those new standards.

Along with this new test for spring 2015, the IDOE must pilot questions for another newer version to be administered in spring 2016. They decided to add those pilot questions in this year's ISTEP+, which resulted in a longer test.

Q: Are there conflicts of interest on the Indiana State Board of Education?

The makeup of the state board is prescribed in state law.

"Politically, the idea is that it's supposed to be six Republicans and four Democrats," says John Barnes, legislative director for the Department of Education. "The problem is, defining who's a Republican and who's a Democrat is very, very difficult."

Other requirements for appointed board members include:

  • At least four of the members must be actively employed in the schools in Indiana and hold a valid teaching license, and
  • At least one member must be appointed from each congressional district in Indiana,

Q: Why isn't the Indiana State Board of Education an elected board?

That's a matter of law, as well. According to Indiana Code, the board consists of the state superintendent and ten members appointed by the governor.

Q: How will these recently proposed changes to the board affect teachers?

The ISTEP+ testing window opens on Feb. 25 – that means teachers have less than two weeks to get ready for whatever test they're giving students this year. Some schools already received their testing materials, ahead of all the changes this week.

"As the request was made by the governor to shorten this, Â we've said, 'Look, there are things we need to check on.'," Barnes says. "It's not going to be so simple. We have to get permission from the feds, and we also need the legislature to take action to repeal some state laws that also require additional question, so it's not as easy as it looks."

Rachel Morello contributed to this Q&A.

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