INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana’s House Education Committee has voted to advance a bill that would allow the state Board of Education to choose its own chairman, according to a report from the Associated Press.
While that may sound like a simple and logical proposition, it’s been the source of heated debate among Republicans and Democrats in the Hoosier state.
The committee voted 8-4 to advance the legislation to the full House, the news report said.
If approved by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Mike Pence, the bill would probably result in the removal of Glenda Ritz, the state superintendent of public instruction, from the chairmanship of the board.
Under the traditional system, the popularly elected state superintendent automatically serves as chairman of the board.
Ritz, the only Democrat among Indiana’s statewide elected officials, has continually battled over policy with the majority of Board of Education members.
The majority of members were appointed by the Republican governor, and tend to favor education reform polices focused on broader school choice for parents, improvements in failing public schools, and a lesser role for the state’s powerful and politically-motivated teachers unions.
Ritz, who has broad union support, tends to oppose reform efforts. She and her allies have been particularly critical of the state’s popular private school voucher program, which allows parents to take a share of their children’s state education dollars to use toward tuition at private schools.
Supporters of the bill say it’s necessary for the state Board of Education to function in a professional, unified manner. They say that’s far more likely if the majority of the board is allowed to choose a chairman that subscribes to its agenda.
Democrats say Pence and legislative Republicans are simply trying to steal power away from Ritz because she defeated former Superintendent Tony Bennett, an aggressive school reformer, in the last election.