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Vic’s Statehouse Notes #199 – February 3, 2015
Senate Bill 1 removing the State Superintendent as chair of the State Board of Education passed the Senate Rules Committee by a party line vote of 7-4 about 6:45pm last evening (Feb. 2) after a long hearing which began about 4:15.
I gave the following testimony against removing the State Superintendent as chair:
“Make no mistake. These bills about who shall chair the State Board are skirmishes in a greater war about whether a strong public education system built over the past 100 years will survive in Indiana. These bills impact policy. They advance the policies of the current State Board backed by the Governor and they deny the policies of the current State Superintendent. While some have dismissed the debates as bickering and the result of personalities, this has been at heart a high-stakes series of contentious policy debates for the past two years about the future of public education in Indiana. Here are five examples:
Debate #1: A strong public education system is built on well trained teachers. Should the training standards for teachers be lowered to give licenses for the first time to individuals with no teacher training and let them learn on the job? The State Board said yes. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction said no. The State Board prevailed.
Debate #2: A strong public education system is built on respected, well trained principals. Should the teacher evaluations completed by school principals for the past two years be derided and ignored because some members of the State Board believe there can’t possibly be as many effective and highly effective teachers as the principals have said? Such attitudes explain why teachers are retiring early and advising young people to pick another profession. Should school principals be downgraded in the teacher evaluation process because their evaluations are wrong? Several members of the State Board have said yes, and they are making plans to change the teacher evaluation system to reduce the role of principals. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction has said no.
Debate #3: A strong public education system is built on well trained superintendents. Should licensing standards for superintendents be lowered to give temporary superintendents with no superintendent license a path to a permanent license with no further training? The State Board, which for the first time in our history has no superintendents or former superintendents appointed to it, said yes. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction said no. The State Board prevailed.
Debate #4: A strong public education system is built on a respected and valid system of grading schools. Should the directions of the 2013 General Assembly (in HEA 1427) to void the current A-F system by November 15, 2013 be delayed and ignored? Should use of the flawed current A-F system which measures student growth based on peer comparisons be continued contrary to the law that you passed? The State Board said yes. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction said no. The State Board prevailed. We are still using and will even use again next fall the system that you voted in 2013 to void.
Debate #5: A strong public education system is built on transparency and public input. Should the State Board use a private email meeting of dubious legality to take action to request that legislative leaders direct LSA to calculate school letter grades without the knowledge of the State Superintendent? The State Board said yes. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction said no. The State Board’s action prompted a legal battle over the Open Door procedures.
In all of these policy debates, and these five examples are but a sampling, the State Superintendent was representing the position of the voters who elected her to maintain our strong system of public education in Indiana. Under current law, the voters choose the chair of the State Board. These bills would remove that power from the voters and give it to appointees of the Governor. This clearly downgrades the power of the voters and tips the balance in these policy debates in favor of the State Board. Directly reducing the power of the voters before the next election diminishes our democracy.
Are these bills really the way democracy is supposed to work? The voters had a chance to ratify the State Board policies listed above in 2012 because they were the policies of State Superintendent Bennett, but they didn’t ratify them. They chose instead to elect State Superintendent Ritz, decisively. She received 1.3 million voters, more than Governor Pence received. The voters had spoken about education.
When it comes to education, the race for State Superintendent is the only office where the voters can focus solely on education policy. As the Governor and members of the General Assembly run for office, there are hundreds of issues that voters might focus on as they make their decision, but the State Superintendent electoral race is all about education, and the voters were extremely clear that they did not agree with State Superintendent Bennett.
While it was obvious that after the 2012 election that State Superintendent Ritz would be a lone voice in the Statehouse, at least it was clear to voters who elected her that she would have the power of the chair to slow down and try to correct several questionable policy proposals which Dr. Bennett had proposed. There were big issues on the table: how to grade our schools, how to evaluate our teachers and whether to lower our licensing standards for teachers and administrators as proposed. The voters had their say, at least for the next four years.
But according these bills, the voters were wrong. The voters do not, according to these bills, have the power to pick leaders who will serve until the next election when the voters can speak again. The Governor and his activist board members did not like the priorities and policies of the new State Superintendent. They have systematically worked for two years to diminish her power in order to win the philosophical battles of education policy. In my observation, this effort began in July, 2013 in the first meeting of the newly appointed board when Superintendent Ritz was presenting her vision for improving reading. She is after all a literacy specialist and she did after all win the election, but her presentation was interrupted and cut off by one board member and tabled before she could even finish the presentation. There has been a long-term effort to reduce her influence and these bills are part of that effort.
It is not fair to the voters in our democracy to change the powers of an office during the term of the office. This clearly undercuts the powers of “We the People”. This bill tries to raise the powers of appointed State Board members above the powers of the voters. This is just plain wrong, and if enacted it would absolutely and clearly diminish our democracy.
At the very least, if the General Assembly decides to favor the Governor’s position over the State Superintendent’s position in the monumental education policy debate that Indiana is now engaged in, the powers of the State Superintendent should be changed to be effective after the next election, and not during the term awarded to the State Superintendent by the voters.
Diminishing the powers of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is an obvious symbol of diminishing Indiana’s priority on public education. I urge you to maintain the powers of the office and to maintain a high priority on public education in Indiana.
We pride ourselves on being a democracy with powers of government derived from the voters. I urge you to withdraw these bills in order to maintain that principle and to respect the voters.”
Details of the Hearing
Senator Holdman was called on to discuss three bills he is sponsoring changing State Board governance, Senate Bill 1, Senate Bill 452 and Senate Bill 453. His amendment to Senate Bill 1, accepted by consensus, in addition to changing the chair, would change the composition of the State Board to nine members, four appointed by the Governor, two by the House Speaker and two by the Senate President Pro Tem.
Chairman Long announced that supporters and opponents would each be given one hour to speak.
Speaking for the bill, in order, were Robert Summers from the Office of the Governor in Ohio; Caitlin Gamble from Hoosiers for Quality Education; Carol Owslander from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce; and Senator Kenley.
Speaking against the bill, in order, were John Barnes representing the State Superintendent and the IDOE; Sally Sloan from AFT-Indiana; Lynn Slivka speaking as a retired teacher and citizen; myself; Teresa Meredith from the Indiana State Teachers Association; Joel Hand from the Indiana Coalition for Public Education; and Kristina Frey speaking as a citizen and parent in Washington Township.
In closing, Senator Holdman said it “makes no difference who is chair” and asserted the only a “tiny majority” of voters knew that the State Superintendent would chair the State Board. Senator Tallian, before the vote, said it was a “travesty” to suggest voters didn’t know the State Superintendent would chair the State Board and called for elections and greater accountability to the voters if the governance of the State Board is to be changed. Senator Lanane said this bill would not reach the core of the problem because the friction is about policies and this bill shows “we don’t care about voters.”
Voting for the bill were Republican Senators Long, Hershman, Holdman, Kruse, Eckerty, Steele and Merritt.
Voting against the bill were Democrat Senators Lanane, Breaux, Arnold and Tallian.
Contact Your Legislators
Senate Bill 1 now goes to the floor of the Senate. Contact your Senator or other Senators with your thoughts this crucial bill.
Senate Bill 1 is an historic change. The State Superintendent has chaired the State Board since 1913 and State Board governance has not been changed since 1984.
Republican Senator Head in a Third House meeting in Logansport last weekend asserted that changing the powers of the State Superintendent should be done only when a Republican holds the office, to avoid the charges of party partisanship. It is clear that he will need lots of grassroots support for that position if it is going to gain favor against the Governor’s position.
Remember you can go to the website of the Indiana General Assembly and click on any Senator. Then click on “Send an email.”
Update on House Bill 1009
Representative Behning presented House Bill 1009 this morning in the House Education Committee. After a long hearing, he said he would hold the bill to discuss amendments with Representative Austin and bring it back for amendments and voting on Thursday, Feb. 5, at 8:30am.
Thanks for your efforts in support of public education!
Vic Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!
ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support the ICPE lobbying efforts. Joel Hand will again be our ICPE lobbyist in the Statehouse. Many have renewed their memberships already, and we thank you! If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to renew now.
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