Did Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz head off a plan by Gov. Mike Pence to undercut her authority when she revealed parts of the governor’s legislative agenda the day before he announced it himself? Probably not, but we can wonder.
On Wednesday, after a testy meeting with the State Board of Education, Ritz told reporters the governor and his allies were trying to remove her as chair of the board.
Ritz’s staff produced a document – an Oct. 3 memo between officials with the Pence-created Center for Education and Career Innovation – that proposed doing just that. The memo, a summary of legislative proposals, said it’s a “problem” that Ritz chairs the board. Its proposed solution: Change the law to have Pence appoint the board chair.
The memo also called for: paying teachers bonuses to move to charter schools; treating charter-school networks like school districts for funding purposes; helping low-income families pay for preschool; taking over underused school buildings to potentially give them to charter schools; and awarding grants to teachers for innovative ideas.
On Thursday, Pence released his legislative proposals, and the education plank tracked closely to the Oct. 3 memo. One difference was that, instead of paying teachers to move to charter schools, he would pay them to work in schools that serve high-poverty areas. But as Scott Elliott of Chalkbeat Indiana notes, that probably means charter schools.
The other obvious difference: No proposal to remove Ritz as chair of the education board.
Pence insisted he never planned to do that. The governor’s press secretary said Pence rejected the idea and told the superintendent as much last week. A CECI spokeswoman downplayed the Oct. 3 memo, saying it was just an early iteration of ideas.
But most of those ideas had survived intact when Pence unveiled his proposals.
It all seems a bit fishy, but it’s unlikely Pence would include an anti-Ritz measure in his legislative agenda. Behind the scenes, he may support removing her as president of the Board of Education – or even making her job appointed. But going public with that proposal would have made today’s news stories all about the dispute and distracted attention from Pence’s other ideas. And it would have energized her supporters.
If there is legislation to undermine the state superintendent, chances are we’ll find out the same way we learned last year that funding was being shifted from the Ritz-led Department of Education to the state board, enabling Pence to create and fund CECI — that is, at the very end of the session or maybe after it’s over.