When voters elected Glenda Ritz nearly two years ago, they made it clear they didn’t like the direction of Indiana schools under Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.
Today, an appointed State Board of Education is set to undo the results of the 2012 election. Two resolutions that would strip most of Ritz’s authority are on the board’s meeting agenda. Working in concert with a new education bureaucracy created by Gov. Mike Pence, the 10 members – all appointed by Pence or Gov. Mitch Daniels – are preparing to reduce the superintendent to a figurehead and wrest control of key functions of her office.
Aside from painting Ritz as weak and ineffective in advance of the next election, the proposals hand unprecedented control of Indiana schools to the governor’s office without any consideration by voters.
Even the GOP-controlled General Assembly seems to have been duped into laying the groundwork for the takeover.
A measure was quietly passed in 2013 to establish the new Center for Education and Career Innovation, with money transferred from the Department of Education. Not even the chairman of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee was aware of the financial sleight of hand. CECI’s staff now works full time to undermine Ritz.
The State Board of Education includes professionals who seem to have the best interests of students at heart. They should recognize the resolutions crafted by the governor’s education staff are counter to the very democratic principles taught in our schools.
The state board members already should be wary of bad counsel. They face a lawsuit alleging violation of Indiana’s Open Door Law last October, when all of the members except Ritz corresponded by email to call for the state’s Legislative Services Agency to calculate A to F grades for schools instead of the superintendent.
Official actions must be taken openly rather than in secret, argued plaintiffs’ attorney William R. Groth in a hearing last month. The people should be kept fully informed of the affairs of their government. The government is a servant of the people and not the other way around.
The judicial system surely will act to ensure government transparency, but one of the resolutions would make it possible for the state’s education powerbrokers to control the agenda without public oversight.
Hoosiers should be angered by efforts to subvert the democratic process. Voters don’t elect supermajorities. They choose individual representatives and statewide officials entrusted to respect the will of the voters.
Supermajority status does not confer the right to nullify an election, and we believe that members of the State Board of Education and the Republican legislators themselves do not support that course.
The board members can demonstrate it by rejecting the resolutions and focusing instead on their responsibilities toward students. It’s the course Indiana voters chose.