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K-12 Policy Warfare in Indiana Persists With Leak of New Group's Agenda

In what is apparently the latest exchange of hostilities between Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz and other state K-12 officials, Ritz's department has posted on its website a draft policy agenda of the Indiana Center for Education & Career Innovation (CECI). The CECI, you may recall, was created by GOP Gov. Mike Pence earlier this year, much to the consternation of Ritz, a Democrat, who felt the new organization was designed to subvert her control over education policy decisions. 

I rang up the CECI to confirm its accuracy and a spokeswoman, Lou Ann Baker, said that it is in fact an internal CECI document (dated Oct. 3) from which some of the items have subsequently been discarded by the CECI. One of those discarded ideas, she said, is to allow the governor to appoint a chairperson from among those he appoints to be members of the board. In practice, this would all but guarantee that Ritz would lose her position as chairwoman. A CECI analysis of this idea says, "The statute is silent as to the chair's specific duties and responsibilities; however, the chair is currently interpreting the the [sic] role of chair very broadly to give her the discretion to accept or reject agenda items and motions suggested by board members."

That's a reference to clashes between Ritz and board members, such as the one in which she refused to put to a vote a motion from member Brad Oliver to "more deeply involve" colleges in Indiana in the standards-setting process. Ritz subsequently declared the meeting adjourned and walked out, even though other board members did not consider the meeting over. 

Referring to the CECI document, Ritz told reporters today, "Their goal is to remove me as chair."

But Baker countered by saying that Pence has made it clear that he does not support ousting Ritz as chairwoman of the state board, and that he held this position before being confronted by Ritz recently with the document during a private meeting between the two.

Asked for the CECI's reaction to Ritz's release of the document, Baker replied that the agency isn't angry about it and added, "Hopefully this is a minor distraction." She also said that the CECI does not see itself as working in conflict with Ritz's department—remember, one of Ritz's concerns is that she will lose control over the state's review of common core to the CECI and others. 

The document contains other education policy proposals, although Baker didn't make clear which ones haven't been "discarded" (she would only say that Pence will reveal his education policy agenda on Dec. 5). One idea is to create a "teacher choice" program, in which the state would pay teachers the difference in their salaries between charter schools and traditional public schools, in order to incentivize teachers to switch to a charter even though they would be taking a salary reduction in the process. But the CECI's analysis says that rightly or wrongly, this policy gives the appearance of "showing favoritism towards charter schools," and that all schools need access to high-quality teachers. 

Keep in mind that Ritz and the state board members met Dec. 4 to try to iron out some of differences. Kristen Amundson, the president of the National Association of State Boards of Education, served as a mediator during the meeting. Right after that meeting, according to the Indianapolis Star, Ritz made the comment about a plan for her ouster. 

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