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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 8:54 am

Republicans add language to bill affecting Ritz's leadership

Niki KellyThe Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS - Republican legislative leaders on Thursday inserted a new concept into the debate over who runs the State Board of Education - saying they want to add language expanding the role of the board when it comes to data.

The provisions being worked out behind-closed-doors would be added to Senate Bill 1, which is the vehicle to remove the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction as the automatic chair of the panel.

No hearings have been held on the idea of requiring the Indiana Department of Education to share data and information with the state board. A second related concept is to expand the definition of state educational agency to include the board.

Both have arisen with just three business days left in the legislative session. And the language hasn't passed either chamber.

Senate Democrat Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said injecting this new issue in the waning hours of the session "just sets up deeper divides and potential for conflict."

But Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, defended the move. They said they are searching for a holistic fix to the dysfunction between the Democrat-led Department of Education and the State Board, which has a majority of Republican members.

"We are trying to look at it a little more deeply beyond who is chairing the board," Long said. "I just want people to be able to work together effectively and it just hasn't happened."

The biggest bone of contention seems to be complaints from the state Board of Education that it doesn't receive data and information from the Department of Education when asked.

"We are simply going to try to say this information must be made available to the board," Long said. "Some barriers have been thrown up."

Bosma said one of those is that the Indiana Department of Education is the state education agency, which is a federal term used to describe the agency or entity who is primarily responsible for the supervision of public schools in the state.

He said the legislature can expand the definition so the State Board of Education also falls under it.

"That is a stumbling block for them receiving some information," Bosma said.

One example he gave was that the board wasn't allowed to see the Request for Proposal that went out - or the responses - in a recent testing bid process. But Department of Education Spokesman Dan Altman said that process was controlled by the Indiana Department of Administration and the current state procurement law.

"To the best of my knowledge we have always shared data when they ask. We have to comply with federal law," he said. "It seems like this is coming out of nowhere."

Long said talks are still ongoing, though Democrats and the Indiana Department of Education have been left out of those. He said he expects the bill to "pop out" late in the process. No conference committee hearing has yet been held and session ends on Wednesday night.

He said the board must have the information it needs to help guide education public policy.