Bills have been introduced into both houses of the Indiana General Assembly that would change the way the Chairperson of the State Board of Education is chosen. Currently, the popularly elected State Superintendent of Education automatically chairs the board. This has been the practice for over 100 years, since the original creation of an elected Superintendent. The current Superintendent is Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, who defeated Tony Bennett in 2012. Ritz, a public school librarian, had been strongly backed by the state teachers’ association as well as some parents upset about the state Republican agenda that promotes charter schools and education vouchers.
Soon after Ritz’s election, the Republican-led state government began taking measures that many said were aimed at checking Ritz’s power. Governor Pence created an alternative agency to the state school board, which he called the Center for Education and Career Innovation. That agency operated out of Pence’s office, was staffed by his personal appointees, and essentially attempted to do the same things as the state school board. Pence announced the dissolution of that agency last December. But in his announcement, the Governor also urged state legislators to change the way the Chair of the Board of Education was chosen, to have the members of the board, who all happen to be his appointees choose the chair, rather than have the superintendent automatically assume the role. Last week, the House Education Committee approved Bill 1609 reflecting Pence’s wish. The Senate has introduced three similar pieces of legislation. To get a local response to this activity, Daily Local News Correspondent David Murphy spoke to Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, chair of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education for Monroe County and South-Central Indiana. Murphy first asked her to give her opinion of the legislation in the general assembly.