Republican Gov. Mike Pence said Thursday he will dissolve a controversial education agency he created last year as part of an effort to “restore trust and harmony” with Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz.
Pence said he will also ask the General Assembly to let the State Board of Education elect its own chairman, which would essentially oust her from the position. Indiana is the only state with an elected state superintendent who also chairs its education board.
“It is time to take the politics out of education in Indiana – or at least out of the State Board of Education – and get back to the business of investing in our schools in ways that prepare our kids for the future that awaits them,” Pence said in a speech to lobbyists and public officials attending the Indiana Legislative Conference in Indianapolis.
Currently, state law assigns the superintendent – who is elected by Hoosiers – to serve as the board chair, although its 10 other members are appointed by the governor.
The moves come after nearly two years of wrangling among Ritz, Pence, the state board members and the staff of the governor’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, which has been taking over some functions once reserved for the Department of Education. Relationships have become so strained at times that Ritz once walked out of a meeting and also sued her fellow board members when they took action without her knowledge.
Pence said eliminating the Center for Education and Career Innovation is the “first step” in resolving those issues. The change, which could occur early next year, means that the five agencies that have been working under the center’s umbrella – including the Indiana Career Council, the Regional Works Councils, the Education Roundtable, the State Board of Education and the Indiana Network of Knowledge – will now operate independently. Members of the education board will hire and manage its own staff.
In a statement on Thursday, Ritz said she welcomed news that the governor will eliminate the agency. She called the move “another sign of the great work that is happening in our schools throughout Indiana and the Department of Education every day.”
But she said there are “other aspects of the governor’s legislative agenda that are concerning for public education in our state.”
And House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he was “especially appreciative” of the governor’s decision to eliminate the Center for Education and Career Innovation “I hope this good faith step by Gov. Pence will be the first of many by elected and appointed leaders to end the finger-pointing and allow all of us to work together for the betterment of Hoosier children,” Bosma said.
Pence’s moves are part of a larger education agenda for the 2015 legislative session that also includes boosting overall funding for K-12 education – although the governor wouldn’t say how much more schools could receive. He said those decisions will be made after a bipartisan committee releases a revenue forecast later this month.
“For decades people have purported to be on the side of children by simply proposing more money for education. But money alone isn’t the answer,” he said. “We do need to increase funding, but we need to do it the right way, the smart way. We need to fund excellence.”
Pence said he wants to boost money for so-called performance funding for schools, which provides extra dollars for teacher salaries when students achieve. On Thursday, the education department distributed the first round of performance funding, sending $30 million to more than 1,300 schools to reward thousands of high-performing teachers.
“How do you get more good teachers in more classrooms? You get more good teachers by paying good teachers more,” Pence said. “That’s the principle behind today’s bonuses.”
Pence said he wants to boost funding for charter schools, remove a cap that limits the amount private elementary schools receive for vouchers, and extend a pilot program for pre-kindergarten programs for two more years.
He said the proposals are meant to support a larger goal: Putting 100,000 more students in high quality schools by the year 2020. That could happen by improving schools that are now failing but also by moving more students into schools that are rated As or Bs.
Currently, Pence said, that those students are now attending schools that have Ds and Fs.
“We have to have a sense of urgency about how we help them,” said Chris Atkins, the governor’s budget director. “We owe it to our kids to not leave them in failing schools that are not giving them the skills, the experiences they need.”
Pence “wants an all-hands-on approach” to solving the problem, Atkins said.
“This is about the kids. This is about their future,” Pence said. “Let’s stay focused on the kids.”
Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.