Pence dissolves controversial state education agency as policy battle brews

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INDIANAPOLIS (Dec. 4, 2014) - Another battle over education policy is brewing ahead of next year’s legislative session with Gov. Mike Pence announcing the dissolution of one state education agency, while also proposing major changes to the structure of the state Board of Education.

On Thursday, Gov. Pence signed an executive order to dissolve the controversial Center for Education and Career Innovation, an agency that Pence created after taking office last year.

“Someone needs to take the first step to restore harmony and trust in education,” said Pence at a legislative conference Thursday, while also calling for a key change to the structure of the state board, which has often been at odds with state superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.

Pence wants the state school board members--appointed by the Republican governor--to elect their own chair instead of having the state superintendent automatically serve as board chair.

“We’ve all seen the confusion--and even friction--at the highest levels of state government, and we’ve all been frustrated,” said Pence. “It is time to take the politics out of education in Indiana, or at least out of the State Board of Education, and get back to the business of investing in our schools.”

Still, some Democrats said they felt the move was a power grab intended to strip Ritz of her duties as board chair.

“They’re so paranoid and insecure that they can’t tolerate this one lone voice,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath. “I don’t get it. I don’t get it. Let her do her job.”

“While dissolving CECI is certainly welcome news, there are other aspects of the Governor’s legislative agenda that are concerning for public education in our state,” said state superintendent Glenda Ritz in a written statement.

House speaker Brian Bosma also issued a written statement Thursday:

“I am especially appreciative of the Governor's Executive Order to dissolve the Center for Education and Career Innovation and hope that this decision will begin to address the discord we have experienced in education governance at the highest levels.  I hope this good faith step by Governor Pence will be the first of many by elected and appointed leaders to end the finger-pointing and allow all of us to work together for the betterment of Hoosier children.”

Pence also proposed several other education-related policies Thursday, including a performance-based bonus for teachers, and flexibility waivers to reward high-performing schools.

The governor delivered his remarks at the annual BGD legislative conference, hosted by local law firm Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP.