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Indiana Governor Creates New K-12 Agency, Irritating State Chief

Indiana will have a new Center for Innovation and Career Education, GOP Gov. Mike Pence announced Aug. 23, aimed at creating new and stronger ties between Indiana's schools and the state's private sector and ensuring that the state "is providing quality education for children and preparing adults for new careers." Pence made the announcement at about noon. Within three hours, Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, had a response ready, and she wasn't happy.

After the election in 2012, which saw Pence win the governor's seat and Ritz pull off an upset of former state superintendent Tony Bennett, the relationship between the two elected officials promised to be one of the more interesting ones to watch on the state K-12 policy landscape. There's little doubt that Pence, along with the Republican-controlled legislature, would have preferred GOP control over state government that extended to the state superintendent's office, and to work with a hard-charging, prominent K-12 boss like Bennett. Despite the de facto tension between Pence and Ritz, the relationship hasn't been a complete sour apple. The two were on the same page, for example, when the state moved to curtail its role with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

But this announcement has clearly rubbed Ritz the wrong way.

"The agency also will foster, identify, and scale innovative education and workforce models, tools and resources and ensure Hoosier educators have the freedom, support, and flexibility to succeed in the classroom," Pence's official announcement of the agency states. "Through transparent accountability systems, CECI will hold students, adult workers, educators, schools, higher education institutions, and workforce programs accountable for their progress."

According to Pence's executive order creating the CECI, the organization will have its own pot of money, funded by the state Board of Education and other government agencies, and can also apply for its own federal funds. It can also enter into memorandums of understanding on its own with other state agencies.

Now, this necessarily doesn't sound too dissimilar from initiatives in other states concerned about workforce readiness. Just take Oregon, where Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, created the state Education Investment Board that unifies policy efforts in K-12 and in community colleges. There might be somewhat less emphasis on the private sector in Oregon's scheme, but there is a stress on the state's economic standing, and the board's 12 members included some from the private sector, such as a representative from Nike.

On the other hand, some might see this Indiana action as a major encroachment by Pence on Ritz's turf. Despite the frequent nods to workforce readiness, some of the language Pence uses regarding the group's reach into the K-12 arena is fairly broad. So just how much is he trying to knock the superintendent down a peg?

In her official statement, Ritz expresses dismay that she first learned about the CECI from news reports, not from Pence's office.

"Superintendent Ritz remains committed to transforming Indiana's K-12 education system into one of equity and high quality for all students, and she looks forward to working with all Hoosiers to achieve that goal," Ritz's office said in a statement. "Last November, 1.3 million Hoosiers said that they trusted her to run the Department of Education. Hoosier students would be better off if the Governor would work with her, rather than around her on this vital issue."

I've called Ritz's office to inquire to what extent she feels this is a general K-12 power-grab by Pence, and if I hear back, I'll update this post.

The position of state superintendent, in case you're wondering, is enshrined in Indiana's constitution. But Wyoming lawmakers demonstrated this year that just because a state keeps a superintendent in power, that doesn't mean the superintendent will continue to hold power and can't be circumvented.

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