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Glenda Ritz Sues Indiana State Board Over A-F Accountability

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has filed a lawsuit against the state Board of Education, alleging that the organization violated the state's open meetings laws when it sought out a legislative agency for oversight of school accountability for the 2012-13 academic year.

What's the back story? Ritz's education department hasn't yet issued A-F grades for schools for the most recent academic year, as the state continues to try to untangle its accountability system in the wake of revelations regarding how former state K-12 boss Tony Bennett handled it last year. Apparently not satisfied with the department's progress on accountability this year, the state board (the majority of which was appointed by first-year Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican) wanted to broaden responsibility for calculating 2012-13 school grades. Specifically, board members wanted to let the state's Legislative Services Agency examine the data behind the grades as the department continued its work, and wrote a letter to two lawmakers, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long, to that effect. The Legislative Services Agency is just what it sounds like: It provides bill analyses and other information for lawmakers, and acts as a sort of a information clearinghouse for state government.

Ritz claims in the suit filed in Marion Circuit Court (courtesy of StateImpact NPR's Kyle Stokes) that when the state board's 10 members sent that letter to Bosma and Long, they did so in secret and without proper prior notice, thereby violating the state's "Open Door" law governing how public meetings must be conducted. Technically, Ritz is chairwoman of the state school board, but in her statement she claims that she wasn't told about the letter until after it was sent.

"I was dismayed to learn that other members of the State Board have not complied with the requirements of the law.  While I respect the commitment and expertise of members of the board individually, I feel they have over-stepped their bounds," Ritz said in her statement.

What do Pence, Bosma, and Long have in common? They're all Republicans, while Ritz is a Democrat. Although Ritz and Pence in particular joined forces to curtail the state's role in common-core aligned tests, Ritz is having an increasingly tough time with state GOP lawmakers. She clashed with Pence in August when the governor created a new state organization, the Center for Innovation and Career Education, that Ritz said she had no idea was in the pipeline (notice a pattern?). And now she's taking on the state school board. 

Obviously, the extent to which Ritz is losing real power over A-F accountability is a major issue here. Elle Moxley at StateImpact NPR writes that the state board maintains that it hasn't taken authority over school grades from Ritz, and that the legislative agency's work is only serving as a "counter check" (in the letter, the board asks for the agency's "assistance).But Ritz is clearly displeased with the whole procedure. Remember, a state panel is still considering how to overhaul it's A-F accountability system in the wake of what happened with Bennett, with a Nov. 1 deadline looming for the panel's recommendations. 

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