Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Remember The State Board Motion That Led To Superintendent Ritz’s Walkout? Attorney General Says It Was OK

State superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks to State Board of Education member Brad Oliver after returning from a recess during which her staff and representatives of the Center for Education and Career Innovation hashed out a motion for the panel to approve a conceptual framework for a new A-F grading system.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

State superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks to State Board of Education member Brad Oliver after returning from a recess during which her staff and representatives of the Center for Education and Career Innovation hashed out a motion for the panel to approve a conceptual framework for a new A-F grading system.

It’s the motion that shut down the Nov. 13 meeting of the State Board of Education.

When members of the panel attempted to pass it three weeks ago, state superintendent Glenda Ritz walked out of the meeting rather than allow the board’s attempt to force its passage.

The motion would have brought in the staff of Governor Mike Pence’s new education agency to review the Common Core State Standards. Ritz blocked it because she was sure was “improper” and would violate state law — not to mention undercut her Department of Education.

And that motion was proper after all, staff for Indiana’s Attorney General told Ritz and board members Thursday.

The decision may come three weeks after the fact, but it’s a victory for the member who made the motion, Brad Oliver, and remains relevant as a deadline for approving new standards draws closer.

The State Board must approve a set of academic standards by July 1, 2014. With state political leaders growing increasingly chilly toward the Common Core standards, Oliver made the motion because he was worried the State Board was getting behind in its review.

Ritz told StateImpact this week she felt the board would have plenty of time to wrap up their standards review before the beginning of next school year and could vote on them in April.

But some board members’ doubts are creeping about whether that timeline is realistic. That’s why Oliver made the motion on Nov. 13.

“I am genuinely concerned about the board’s ability to meet its obligation,” Oliver said during the meeting. That’s when he offered the motion in question, which would’ve authorized the staff of the board — part of the newly-created Center for Education and Career Innovation — to seek the advice of experts in higher education as part of a review of the standards.

Ritz says that would encroach on duties state law required her Department of Education to perform. Here’s what she said at the meeting:

I don’t care if you organize your public hearings [as the Common Core review legislation requires]… You can go forth and you can do that, and honestly, you can do it anytime you want to. I don’t even need to be play a role in that… But regarding the process that is outlined in statute that the department does? We gather the input. From the K-12 and the postsecondary subject matter teachers. We are conducting the review process. There’s a reason for the check-and-balance that we have regarding standards — because there’s supposed to be a check and balance.

The Attorney General’s advisory opinion rejected that interpretation of the law, saying the State Board can reach out to teachers, subject matter experts and third-party advisors without infringing on each others’ statutorily-required duties.

“This conclusion does not comment on whether such an expenditure of resources is wise or the best approach given all of the relevant considerations and circumstances,” says Matt Light, a lawyer in the Attorney General’s office. But, he adds, “we do conclude… that the Board can choose to pursue this process if it deems it appropriate.

According to Light, the law Ritz cited refers to the process by which the Department reviews state standards on a regular basis. But the Common Core “pause” law the General Assembly passed last spring provided a special case. It’s a “one-time process,” Light writes, “by which the Board must conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the Common Core standards.”

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