The step-by-step dismantling of public education in Indiana continued in the 2015 session. The passage of Senate Bill 1 on the final day of the legislative session marked a significant upheaval in the tectonic plates undergirding the once-sturdy foundation of public education in Indiana.
Under Senate Bill 1, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, elected by the public, will lose the power of chairing the State Board of Education, a power held by the State Superintendent since 1913, over a hundred years.
After December 31, 2016, the chair will be elected by the appointed members of the board, not the voters. Since no qualifications for the new chair were set by Senate Bill 1, the General Assembly has opened the door to have a non-educator chair the State Board of Education for the first time.
No effort was made in the bill to protect the importance of public education experience in chairing the State Board.
Milton Friedman, the inventor of private school vouchers, in a speech to state lawmakers at the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2006 answered his own question of "How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?" by saying "the ideal way would be to abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it." Demoting and marginalizing the State Superintendent of Public Instruction appears to be a step along the path endorsed by Dr. Friedman.
Governors and State Superintendents: Who Controls Education Policy?
There was a time in my career when every Governor did not want to be the "education Governor." I began teaching in the era of Governor Whitcomb who left education policy to the State Superintendent and the State Board. Governor Bowen, after engineering the landmark collective bargaining law of 1973, essentially did the same thing.
In the 1980's, when the history of unending education reform began, Governor Orr ran on a platform of assisting with the early grades, and his interest resulted in major funding for Project Primetime, a popular and effective program to lower the class sizes in Grades K-3. He followed that initiative with the A+ reforms of 1987 which brought us the ISTEP tests. Governor Orr resisted President Reagan’s call for private school vouchers and consistently supported public education, but with his actions, gubernatorial involvement in Indiana education policy was firmly established.
Every Governor since has been deeply involved in education policy, but no Governor has sought to take over the duties of the State Superintendent until Governor Pence took office. In 2013, even before State Superintendent Ritz was inaugurated on January 19th, House Bill 1309 was introduced in the General Assembly on January 14, 2013 requiring the state board to elect a vice chairperson who “may call meetings; set and amend agendas; arrange for witnesses; and carry out any other administrative function as it relates to meetings of the state board.” The bill went nowhere, but the plan to diminish the previous powers of the State Superintendent was already in place as both Governor Pence and State Superintendent Ritz began their terms of office. Governor Pence has shown no willingness to work with the elected State Superintendent from the beginning.
Senate Bill 1: New Potential Sources of Confusion and Conflict
While the stated purpose of SB 1 was to resolve conflicts and bickering, the language of the bill appears to open a new arena for conflict. The supermajority decided it was too dangerous politically to change the powers of the State Superintendent in the middle of the term of office, so the removal of the State Superintendent as chair was delayed until the beginning of the next term of office, after December 31, 2016.
More immediately, however, under provisions of the new law, "a vice chairperson shall be elected at the first meeting of the state board after June 30, 2015" who "shall act as chairperson in the absence of the chairperson."
Here is the new problem: "The chairperson and the vice chairperson are jointly responsible for establishing agendas for state board meetings after receiving and considering recommended agenda items from the members of the state board." This last minute addition to the language of the bill leaves many questions:
1. Is the vice chairperson supposed to actually function as a co-chairperson?
2. If there is a disagreement about the agenda between the State Superintendent and the vice chairperson, does each have a veto over the final decision?
3. Why can’t the chair have the normal power of setting the agenda with the input of the board members, as it is now?
4. Did the General Assembly have to micromanage even the agenda powers of the State Superintendent?
It seems obvious that the seeds of further conflict have been sown by these words of the General Assembly.
Who Will Appoint State Board Members?
The reason Senate Bill 1 took until the last day was a disagreement between the Senate and the Governor over appointments to the State Board. The original House Bill 1609 left all 10 appointments to the Governor, as it has been since 1984, when the reform creating the State Board of Education was passed under Governor Orr. Senate Bill 1 reduced the total size of the board to nine, with four appointments by the Governor, two by the Speaker of the House and two by the President Pro Tem of the Senate. The State Superintendent was to serve as the ninth member.
House Bill 1609 never got a hearing and died in the Senate. Senate Bill 1 was amended by the House and passed in the final meeting of the House Education Committee. The House version called for a 13 member board, with the Governor appointing ten, the Speaker one and the President Pro Tem one, with the State Superintendent serving as the 13th member.
Senator Holdman, the bill’s sponsor, dissented on the House changes and took the bill to Conference Committee. The Conference Committee did not meet until April 27th, only two days before the session ended. The proposed Conference Committee report sliced the State Board back down to nine members and delayed the removal of the State Superintendent until after the next election.
The bill remained in flux until the final day, April 29th. The final deal was to leave the number at eleven, the number on the State Board now, with the Governor getting eight appointments, the Speaker one, and the President Pro Tem one. No doubt the Governor was not pleased about losing two appointments to the legislative branch, but that is how it came out.
Senate Bill 1: Partisan Support and Bipartisan Opposition
Senate Bill 1 was passed by the supermajority Republican members, but some courageous members of the Republican caucus joined the Democrats in voting against the bill. Some Republicans were "taken to the woodshed" over their opposition to SB 1. It can be damaging to a political career to vote contrary to the wishes of the caucus leadership.
Public school advocates should thank the members of the Republican caucus and the Democrats who opposed Senate Bill 1 in the House and in the Senate.
They were standing up for the power of voters. In the 2012 election, voters had the power to choose the chair of the State Board, but in 2016, the voters will lose that power. As few as six appointed members of the State Board will gain the power to elect the chair of the State Board.
In the House of Representatives, this bill was opposed by ten Republicans and all Democrats in the final day 60-38 vote. Those voting no included Republican Representatives Arnold, Beumer, Braun, Dermody, Harman, Judy, Koch, Mahan, Nisly and Truitt and Democrat Representatives Austin, Bartlett, Bauer, C. Brown, DeLaney, Dvorak, Errington, Forestal, GiaQuinta, Goodin, Hale, Kersey, Klinker, Lawson, Macer, Moed, Moseley, Niezgodski, Pelath, Pierce, Porter, Pryor, Riecken, Shackleford, V. Smith, Stemler, Summers and Wright.
In the Senate, the final day 31-17 roll call showed nine Republican Senators and all eight Democrats who voted opposing the bill. Those voting no included Republican Senators Alting, Becker, Delph, Ford, Glick, Head, Leising, Messmer, and Tomes and Democrat Senators Arnold, Breaux, Broden, Lanane, Randolph, Rogers, Stoops and Tallian.
As the 2015 session of the General Assembly ends, the foundations of public education in Indiana are showing new cracks and the voters have lost an important power.
Many have called Senate Bill 1 a power grab. This has two meanings. One is that the Governor has grabbed power from the State Superintendent. In broader terms regarding our democracy, it also means that government appointees have grabbed power from the voters. Will the voters notice and react?
Our democracy and the role of voters have been diminished by the legacy of Senate Bill 1.
Thanks for your advocacy for public education during the 2015 session of the General Assembly!
Vic Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
“Vic’s Statehouse Notes” and ICPE received one of three Excellence in Media Awards presented by Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, an organization of over 85,000 women educators in seventeen countries. The award was presented on July 30, 2014 during the Delta Kappa Gamma International Convention held in Indianapolis. Thank you Delta Kappa Gamma!
ICPE has worked since 2011 to promote public education in the Statehouse and oppose the privatization of schools. We need your membership to help support the ICPE lobbying efforts. Joel Hand will again be our ICPE lobbyist in the Statehouse. Many have renewed their memberships already, and we thank you! If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to renew now.
We must raise additional funds for the 2015 session, which begins on January 6th. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help and the help of your colleagues who support public education! Please pass the word!
Go to www.icpe2011.com for membership and renewal information and for full information on ICPE efforts on behalf of public education. Thanks!
Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:
I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998. In 2013 I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the IU School of Education, and in 2014 I was honored to be named to the Teacher Education Hall of Fame by the Association for Teacher Education – Indiana.