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School voucher transparency? Not in Indiana

Death by a thousand cuts appears to be the method Indiana House Republicans are using to strip state Superintendent Glenda Ritz of all authority. The latest swipe removes oversight of the school voucher program from her office.

House Bill 1342 would create the "Office of Accountability and Innovation." This new office (from the party of smaller government) would operate outside the Indiana Department of Education to "(1) establish and maintain a longitudinal data system that contains record level educational and workforce data from all levels of education and the state's workforce; and (2) administer the Choice Scholarship Program.

It allows the state superintendent a seat on a three-person board governing the office, but majority control would rest with two appointed officials – executive director of the Commission for Higher Education and the commissioner for the Department of Workforce Development.

The legislation takes authority from the elected state superintendent and hands it to appointed officials. Not surprisingly, it takes oversight of the voucher program from Ritz's control.

Data from some voucher schools is glaringly absent from DOE records, but a spokesman for the new superintendent pledged that restoring transparency is a goal for the new administration. That's clearly a concern for the voucher proponents.

The fiscal impact statement fails to place a price tag on the new office, suggesting that DOE staff formerly assigned to oversee the voucher program could be reassigned to the new office.

The legislation, authored by House Education Committee Chairman Robert Behning, is another blatant power grab. He and other lawmakers refuse to accept the will of Indiana voters and are looking to legislate the state superintendent into oblivion. Conveniently distracted by a debate over the Common Core and another voucher expansion scheme, the 1.3 million Hoosiers who supported Ritz are likely to find by the end of this session that her authority has been totally negated.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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