By Adam Lee
A House committee moved legislation Thursday that would strip the elected state superintendent of her position as chair of the State Board of Education, a move Republicans insist is not political even as every Democrat on the committee voted no.
House Bill 1609, authored by Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, would let the appointed State Board of Education choose its own chairperson from existing board members. Current state law gives that positive the state superintendent, now Democrat Glenda Ritz.
The Senate is moving a similar bill.
Indiana and Oklahoma are the only states that currently have their state superintendents automatically chair their education boards.
McMillin that making this move would put the board in the best position to “remove politics from the equation.” Since Ritz’s election two years ago, she has been battling with the boards other members, all of whom are appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence.
Caitlyn Gamble, director of policy and research at Hoosiers for Quality Education, told the House Education Committee on Thursday that needs to change.
“We need to spend less time arguing about the process and the politics and return the focus of our education policy to the students,” Gamble said.
She said HB 1609 would create a political balance and help the education process.
But critics of the legislation disagreed.
Joel Hand, a lobbyist for the Indiana Coalition of Public Education, said the “bill does not remove the politics from educating our kids.”
“As long as the General Assembly and elected body determines policy,” the education programs will always be political, he said.
Ritz also spoke against the bill. “Indiana chose to have its highest ranking elected authority on education to be the chair,” and that it has been this way for more than 100 years,” Ritz told the committee.
She called HB 1609 “unnecessary” and said the bill and ones like it “will do nothing to solve the real governance issues that this policy-making body must address.”
HB 1609 passed 8-3 and moves to the full House for consideration.
Adam Lee is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.