News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 13, 2013

Dispute sends Indiana education board into chaos

Ritz abruptly leaves meeting

INDIANAPOLIS — A meeting that was expected to produce a new plan for grading Indiana schools turned chaotic Wednesday when the state’s top education official stormed out, escalating an already testy battle with Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz abruptly left the meeting of the state school board she chairs when a Pence appointee tried to transfer certain student assessment powers from her office to a second education department created by the governor earlier this year.

“This meeting is adjourned,” Ritz said repeatedly, while packing her things and walking out. Department of Education staff quickly followed suit, while leaders of Pence’s second education department and the other board members stayed put. It is unclear whether Ritz ended the meeting.

Indiana’s “A-F” school grading formula was investigated after an Associated Press report showed Ritz’s predecessor, Tony Bennett, changed the rules to raise the grade of a political donor’s charter school from a “C” to an “A” last year. Bennett resigned his job as Florida’s schools chief amid the scandal.

The explosion Wednesday was the latest in an acrid battle, marked by a lawsuit Ritz filed — but dropped last week — against other school board members over control of the state’s school grading formula.

At stake is control of Indiana’s education system and the sweeping education changes put in place by Bennett and former Gov. Mitch Daniels. Indiana Republicans approved the nation’s most sweeping school voucher law in 2011 and have expanded on it somewhat, in addition to dozens of other changes long sought by conservative education reformers.

Former Bennett staffers have accused Ritz of conducting a hit on Bennett through a series of public records releases. The Associated Press obtained campaign fundraising lists Bennett and his staff kept on state computers.

The other members of the state board, a bipartisan group all appointed by Pence or Daniels, have accused Ritz of dragging her feet in implementing laws she openly campaigned against last year.

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