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Mid-term not the time to change state board

My Opinion
Alan Stewart, Staff Writer

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, Sen. Erin Houchin and everyone else in the Indiana General Assembly in Indianapolis who has a hand in stripping State Supt. of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz of one of the duties of her position should be ashamed of themselves.
Earlier this month, the Indiana House, including Rhoads, voted overwhelmingly for a bill that would change state law that the state superintendent chair the 11-member Indiana State Board of Education. Under the bill, authored by Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, the members of the state board of education would elect annually a chairperson from the members of the state board.
House Bill 1609 passed, 58-40, in the Republican-controlled House with 12 Republicans including Salem’s Steve Davisson of District 73, joining all the Democrats who were present in voting nay. Then, last Tuesday, the Indiana Senate, including Houchin, voted 33-17 for Senate Bill 1 to allow the state board to choose its own chairman. Of the 17 against, 10 were Democrats and seven were Republicans.
Pence currently appoints all 10 board members outside of Ritz. The proposal passed by the Senate would make it a nine-member board, with four appointments by the governor, one appointment each for the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate and the state superintendent.
If either measure makes it through, the changes would take place in July of this year, halfway through Ritz’s term.
Let me make this clear: from this corner, this isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue. I’d feel the same way and would have the same opinion if the parties were reversed.
In November 2012, some 1.3 million Hoosier voters chose Ritz over her Republican opponent, Tony Bennett. Now Republican lawmakers want to jerk the rug from beneath Ritz in the middle of her term because she doesn’t want to play by their rules.
It’s not right. Never has been. Never will be. The voters had their say and the IGA shouldn’t get to decide that it doesn’t like the outcome, thus changing job descriptions mid-term to achieve a more favorable result for their benefit.
It stands to reason with Ritz out of the way, additional bills and measures ‘ likely favorably dealing with tax-funded vouchers and charter schools, issues Ritz has openly opposed ‘ would sail through both chambers with the effort of squeezing jelly.
By having the change made in July, instead of at the end of Ritz’s current term, it makes it blatantly obvious Republicans are only looking out for themselves and their agenda. If they weren’t, they’d have worded the bills to take effect at the end of Ritz’s current term, not the middle.
When she was elected, Ritz’s job description included the right to serve as the head of the state board. She should keep that right until public voters have another say.
To those who want to argue that Ritz hasn’t played fair either, I can’t necessarily disagree. She’s walked out of a state school board meeting, argued over nearly everything under the educational sun and has made life rough going for Republicans. That said, as a member of the opposing party and as someone who adamantly opposes what Pence and Republicans are trying to do with education, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone she’s going against the status quo.
Rhoads said that, if voters felt discouraged by what was happening in Indianapolis in regard to education, it didn’t show in last year’s election.
‘If people were wanting things to be different, they would have taken me out. Most of us are still here,’ Rhoads said to a reporter.
The House and Senate versions of the bills were authored in January, so it’s fairly difficult for voters to make a change after a vote has taken place.
That is, unless you are a House or Senate Republican dealing with Glenda Ritz and going against the wishes of 1.3 million Hoosiers.