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10/21/2018 12:12:00 PM
EDITORIAL: From behind closed doors

Kokomo Tribune

“It’s not working, and it’s not good for education in Indiana,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long when a 2015 bill was filed by his Republican caucus to change the composition of the Indiana State Board of Education and the selection method for its chairman.

Three years later, a state board reshaped by that legislation and led by a Republican state superintendent appeared just as dysfunctional and discordant as it did under a Democratic superintendent.

Could it be the problem is not with the members but the administration of the board? And if Long and other lawmakers were worried about the effects of the board on Indiana schools three years ago, shouldn’t they be concerned today?

Some history: The State Board of Education, with the state schools chief as its chairman, operated as a functioning panel for many years, notably during the peaceful and productive 12-year-period when Republican Superintendent Suellen Reed served alongside Democratic Govs. Evan Bayh, Frank O’Bannon and Joe Kernan.

The working relationship became more tense when Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels was elected in 2004, but Reed stepped out of the way in 2008 for the governor’s hand-picked candidate, Tony Bennett, who worked hand in hand with Daniels to pass the state’s voucher law and the A-F school-grading system.

The drama began in 2013, after Democrat Glenda Ritz defeated Bennett at the polls and differences surfaced among Gov. Mike Pence, the state superintendent and the board.

In response, legislative leaders quietly slipped a provision in the 2013 state budget bill, shifting $3 million from the Indiana Department of Education, overseen by Ritz, to the State Board of Education. In addition, Pence issued an executive order creating a new bureaucracy, the Center for Education and Career Innovation. It was to be supported by the State Board of Education’s new appropriation.

The spending sleight-of-hand was done so quietly that Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn), chairman of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, said, “Did we pass that in a law? Where did they get that appropriation?”

The 18-member Center for Education and Career Innovation worked so openly to undermine Ritz that public outrage began to build. Under pressure, Pence dissolved the agency in late 2014, but the State Board of Education simply picked up the mantle. Its staff grew from two members to 10, with an 11th employee added just last last year.

And earlier this month, Republican Superintendent Jennifer McCormick announced she would not seek re-election to the position — two years before her term is up.

Yes, there is dysfunction within the State Board of Education. If Indiana lawmakers want it to end once and for all, they should look past the state superintendent and board members to see who is causing it.

Related Stories:
• EDITORIAL: Legislature should eliminate final election of school superintendent
• Indiana schools chief will not run for re-election in 2020, cites ongoing political infighting
• Jennifer McCormick won't seek 2nd term as state school superintendent

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