Analysis: Lawmakers resist wading into education dispute – but will


By Lesley Weidenbener

Lesley Weidenbener, managing editor,

Lesley Weidenbener, managing editor,

INDIANAPOLIS – State legislative leaders are weighing how to deal with what one of them called a “civil war” between the governor and state superintendent of public instruction.

Analysis button in JPGAlready, Republican lawmakers have been working behind the scenes to mediate the dispute, which has crippled the State Board of Education. The clash stems from Democrat Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s win over a GOP incumbent last year and Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s creation of a new education-related agency.

“Right now the status quo is not acceptable,” Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said last week. “We have to find a way for people to do their work. They don’t have to like each other; but they have to work together because it affects our kids and our schools and our ability to move forward as a state.”

Both Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, say they’re hesitant for the legislature to step too far into the dispute. Long called it a “last resort.”

Still, he said last week he’s not inclined to dismantle the controversial new Center for Education and Career Innovation. In fact, he said the new agency, which is staffing the State Board of Education that Ritz chairs, is “consistent” with directions from the legislature.

From left, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne; Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican; House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis; and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat

From left, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne; Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican; House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis; and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat

Ritz says the agency – which brings together the education board, the advisory Indiana Education Roundtable, and several workforce development councils and agencies – is at the root of problems. She claims the agency, at the direction of Pence, is trying to usurp her authority and that of the Department of Education she oversees.

And last week, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Republicans are creating a “political soap opera” to justify stripping Ritz of some of her powers.

Officials at the center have denied any such takeover attempts. And the governor wants to bring in a national group to mediate the dispute – something Ritz has rebuffed. She says direct talks with the governor are the key to resolving the problems.

The fracas matters because so many education issues in Indiana are up in the air. The State Board of Education – whose members Ritz recently sued over actions she deemed illegal – is working on a new grading system for schools, debating what standards school curriculum should be based and will soon be choosing a new testing system to measure achievement based on those standards.

Bosma said last week that a rework of the education structure – an elected state superintendent who chairs a State Board of Education appointed by the governor – is something lawmakers may have to discuss. In the past, though at different times, both Republicans and Democrats have advocated an appointed, rather than elected, state superintendent.

“It may be appropriate to look at that structure and modernize it,” Bosma said. But he added, “Not this session in the middle of an argument about who is in charge.”

Lawmakers won’t return to the Statehouse for their 2014 session until January, which gives Pence, Ritz and the state board a few weeks to try to iron out differences. Otherwise lawmakers may get involved after all.

Legislative leaders say they’re reluctant to do so but Bosma seemed to indicate last week that they would if necessary.

“While there’s an argument over who’s in charge of education policy,” he said, “our state’s constitution clearly gives that task to the elected legislative bodies in this chamber and the Senate.”

That sounded a lot like a warning.

Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.