As legislative deadline looms, last-minute changes proposed to Ritz bill

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INDIANAPOLIS (April 27, 2015) – The final countdown is on at the Statehouse this week before the legislative session ends Wednesday.

During a conference committee Monday, lawmakers proposed some significant changes to a controversial bill that would shift power away from State Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

“My gosh we’ve have enough drama this session,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane said. “Nope, they can’t help themselves.”

The purpose of the legislation, which in part would allow the State Board of Education to select its own chairperson, has targeted the elected Democrat after infighting between her, Gov. Mike Pence and Republican lawmakers.

The new language introduced would allow Ritz to remain chairperson through the end of her term and through the 2016 election. Then, beginning in 2017, the board would select its chairperson as opposed to it automatically being filled by the state superintendent.

“We need to have a reconstruction of the board itself,” State Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) said.

Monday’s proposal would also shift some power away from Pence, who currently appoints all board members except the superintendent. Lawmakers are proposing allowing the Indiana Senate pro Tem and House Speaker to appoint to members.

The board would also be reduced in size from 11 members to nine.

“I think this is a good fit and one way to sort of get through some of the controversy that’s gone on is to have a bit of a mix-up on the board,” Holdman said. “Because if we have nine, you know some folks are going to be off the board, and I think that’s a good thing that we reconstitute the board and start over again.”

Republicans are hoping for that exact reset, moving beyond the public and often times political fights.

New proposed changes would also better align the board’s power and access to information with that of the Department of Education, giving it more oversight over state tests like the ISTEP.

“The data sharing, that’s very scary,” Lanane said. “There’s all types of federal and state restrictions on who can have this data. We’re talking about our kids most private information in terms of education.”

Republican leaders said they’ll be discussing the proposed changes in caucus and with Pence’s administration before Wednesday’s legislative deadline.

“They have some concerns about it,” Holdman said. “And we will continue to dialogue with the governor’s office and move forward.”