Bill to remove Ritz as education chair passes Senate committee

Glenda Ritz, Indiana superintendent of public instruction

An Indiana Senate committee has advanced a bill that would strip Democratic state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz of her role as chair of the State Board of Education. The House Education Committee passed the bill 8-4.

The proposal would allow the board to choose its own chairman, most likely ousting Ritz from her current position. Lawmakers also approved changes that would increase the board's size to 13 members, maintaining the 10 seats currently appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence. A similar House proposal would keep the current structure of 11 members.

Republican lawmakers want to change state law so the superintendent would no longer automatically be the State Board of Education's chairman. Another proposal would transfer control of areas such as teacher evaluations, testing and student data from the education department to the board, which is dominated by GOP Gov. Mike Pence's appointees.

The changes come amid charges of a dysfunctional board. Ritz's supporters in the Legislature protest that Republicans are disenfranchising voters who in 2012 elected Ritz, but they had slim prospects of blocking the moves.

Those backing the changes say Ritz is blocking education programs that the Legislature expects the Board of Education to oversee.

In a February 2015 interview with WTHR, Ritz said, "We've been working together all the time on what really matters for kids. The disagreement has been about whose job is it. The state Board of Education used to have its budget under the department and that's how it was managed. Now it's a separate agency. It's a separate entity. It has its own staff. So there's a lot of controversy over who's doing what."