Friday, July 26, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #149 – July 26, 2013

Dear Friends,

Glenda Ritz no doubt thought that winning 1.3 million votes, more votes than Gov. Pence, to become State Superintendent after a 32 year career focused on reading and literacy had at least earned her a respectful hearing at last Friday’s (July 19th) State Board meeting of her plans to improve Indiana’s reading program.

Not so.

State Board member Dan Elsener cut her off in the middle of the presentation to say that the hour was late and he didn’t think the board should consider this proposed rule change today. His thought carried the day, and the Ritz reading plan was deferred until the discussion session, not the action session, of the next meeting.

Later the board voted to have Dan Elsener work with the Governor’s office to hire independent staff for the State Board using new authority to control its own budget. The powers of the State Board have thus been vastly elevated by the Governor.

The Proposed Reading Rule

Implementation of the 2010 reading law has been controversial from the start. Mandatory retention for third graders who don’t pass the I-READ 3 test was not clearly stated in the 2010 law but was enforced under rules endorsed by Dr. Bennett and passed by the State Board. Glenda Ritz had made it a key point in her campaign that mandatory retention for third graders should be reviewed. The proposal last Friday was to initiate rule-making, a first step which would start a revision process with public hearings still months away.

Discussing the reading revisions in tandem with veteran reading consultant John Wolf, she advocated replacing the pass-fail IREAD test with a different test that for the first time would establish every student’s instructional reading level for use by current and subsequent teachers.

She also wants to take out the word “uninterrupted” from the part of the rule requiring 90 minutes of reading instruction every day in elementary schools. Whether the state should require a specific number of minutes or whether local reading staff should determine schedules has been a point of contention since the reading rule was passed. There was general agreement that 90 minutes of reading instruction was a good idea, but not all thought that the state had to prescribe that it be “uninterrupted.” Some argued that without a definition of “uninterrupted”, it had little meaning.

Before she could get to the section proposing that “uninterrupted” be deleted, Dan Elsener called time on her. Perhaps we will hear the “uninterrupted” discussion next month.

The Independent Financing of the State Board

In what some have called a power grab, under a benign agenda item entitled “State Board of Education resourcing,” the State Board voted 8 to 0 with Glenda Ritz abstaining to authorize Dan Elsener to work with the Governor’s office to hire staff for the State Board using money budgeted for the State Board. For the first time, the budgeted money for the State Board is not controlled by the Department of Education.

Obviously, a State Board with its own staff using a budget of $3,010,716 each year could become a power center independent of the State Superintendent and the Department of Education. Apparently, the Governor has quietly put this seismic shift into motion.

I went back to read the budget to see where I had missed the language creating an independent State Board of Education. There is no such language. The budget language describing what the State Board budget may be used for is exactly the same as the budget of 2011, with the exception that the Education Roundtable is deleted from this description and is given a budget line item of its own. It is funded at $750,000, and no description of intended use for roundtable funding is stated in the budget.

This discovery leaves intriguing questions:
  1. Who decided to channel the State Board’s budget outside the Department of Education if it wasn’t the plan of the General Assembly in any bill or in the budget?
  2. Didn’t this fundamental change in policy deserve some public review and comment?
  3. Why wasn’t a bill debated in the General Assembly clarifying the powers of an independent State Board of Education?
  4. Are the powers of an independent State Board of Education limited in any way?
  5. Could this have been done years ago during the Bayh and O’Bannon years when Republicans Dean Evans and Suellen Reed served as State Superintendents and controlled the State Board funding?
  6. When was this decision made?
  7. Is this part of a broader plan to undercut the powers of State Superintendent Ritz as head of the Department of Education?
Dan Elsener, with the power of the Governor and a clear majority of the State Board in his corner, showed that he can quickly dispatch any proposal from State Superintendent Ritz that he doesn’t like. His only risk is that seething supporters of Glenda Ritz will have a long memory and will influence the next Governor’s election in 2016. At this moment, that appears to be an unlikely outcome for a far-off election.

The business of quietly reducing the powers of State Superintendent Ritz seems to be underway, leaving her only the powers of the bully pulpit. It remains to be seen whether her vigorous use of that bully pulpit can effectively counter the efforts to marginalize her office.

Advocates for public education have a great ally in Glenda Ritz. She deserves our strong support.

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

ICPE is working to promote public education and oppose privatization of schools in the Statehouse. We need all previous members of ICPE to renew their memberships for the 2013-14 membership year which began July 1st. Please join us! To all who have recently renewed, we say thank you! We have reduced but not yet eliminated our debt from the General Assembly session. We need additional support to carry on our advocacy for public education. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help!

Go to for membership and renewal information.

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.

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