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Legislative coup d’état


Remember Nov. 6? Indiana House Republicans do – they remember it as the day they lost control of the Indiana superintendent of public instruction post to Democrat Glenda Ritz.

Now some are working to grab control through legislative means, including a bill to move oversight of the state’s new voucher program from the Department of Education, administered by Ritz, to the Office of Management and Budget, administered by Gov. Mike Pence. The move makes no sense educationally.

House Bill 1342 is the handiwork of Rep. Bob Behning, the Indianapolis Republican who chairs the House Education Committee. He proposes moving the administration of the voucher program to OMB to ensure an “impartial” manager is overseeing the voucher program. But Behning never had a problem with its oversight when former Superintendent Tony Bennett, an unabashed supporter of private and parochial schools, was administering the program.

On the contrary, what the education committee chairman is looking for is someone to promote the entitlement program, at the expense of public schools. In moving voucher oversight to a fiscal agency, Behning offers more evidence that a major purpose of the law was to distribute tax money, not to help Indiana students.

Perhaps he is worried that oversight by educators will reveal some serious flaws. How is it, for example, that the most vouchers claimed by students in the Fort Wayne Community Schools’ district last year went to Cornerstone College Prep School, which earned a grade of F on the state’s own report card system?

Even though 94 voucher students were enrolled at Cornerstone at taxpayer expense, nearly all test data are redacted for privacy reasons. How are parents empowered to make wise choices about school quality without access to test results, graduation rates or even enrollment numbers?

Could some voucher supporters be worried that Ritz, a National Board Certified teacher, will provide the transparency that Bennett’s administration would not?

Behning complained that the Department of Education hasn’t yet opened enrollment for next fall’s voucher program. But David Galvin, the department’s director of communications, said the Republican leader had not contacted Ritz’s agency with concerns. The new administration took office just six weeks ago, after a mass exodus of Bennett’s staff.

“He is using that one event to gauge her support. The representative wants to pursue Dr. Bennett’s agenda,” Galvin said. “We are going through everything to make sure it is in order. We’ll be opening (voucher) enrollment next month, and it is open until mid- to late August. They opened it in early February last year.”

GOP leaders have been chipping away at Ritz’s power in other ways – seeking to eliminate her co-chair status on the Education Roundtable, for example, or to abrogate her authority as chairwoman of the State Board of Education.

To Ritz’s credit, the superintendent has sought only to work with Republican leaders, acknowledging that some reorganization is needed and offering sound measures to improve the formula behind the A-F grading system.

Nothing she has done so far suggests that she’s attempting to unravel the laws Bennett pushed, even if election results suggest Indiana voters did not like them.

Without Bennett as the face of Indiana’s education agenda, Republican lawmakers should know that responsibility for additional changes affecting public schools falls to them. The next legislative election, Nov. 4, 2014, is not too far away.