Education battle flares between Ritz and Pence

INDIANAPOLIS - Democratic Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz accused Gov. Mike Pence's education staff and appointees to the State Board of Education of trying to "undermine" her efforts to secure a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Her comment came a day before the board meets to consider a pair of measures that would place new restrictions on her department and shift further powers from her to Pence's education staff. Ritz accused Pence's staff of jeopardizing the No Child waiver request she submitted to the U.S. Department of Education last week.

"I have said from the start that I am a strong proponent of renewing and extending our waiver.  Unfortunately, the Governor-appointed State Board of Education and his separate education staff appear determined to undermine our work," Ritz said in a statement Tuesday.

But Pence's staff accused Ritz herself of jeopardizing the state's efforts to maintain the waiver and argued the changes being considered are necessary because she "shut down" a resolution from Republican board member Brad Oliver last month.

Lou Ann Baker, spokeswoman for Pence's Center for Education and Career Innovation -- a competing education department created by the governor last year and the focus of most of Ritz's criticism -- said Ritz had been freezing board members out of discussions on the federal waiver.

"The board clearly asked in May to have information on the waiver to discuss in a timely fashion. The board at the last meeting wanted to have a discussion -- attempted to have a discussion -- and the meeting was shut down by the superintendent," she told the Associated Press.

U.S. Department of Education officials alerted the state at the end of April that it was in jeopardy of losing its No Child Left Behind waiver because of problems tracking low-performing schools and the state's exit from national Common Core standards, which resulted in the need for a new standardized test compliant with federal rules.

At stake is control over a slice of the more than $200 million in federal "Title I" dollars the state receives each year.

The sparring follows fights Ritz had with Pence and some board members last year which resulted in her walking out of one meeting. Competing Ritz and Pence staff elbowed each other for the microphone at board meetings and Ritz filed a lawsuit against the other board members when they kept her out of a key decision on how the state's "A-F" school grades were calculated.

Ritz staff said Tuesday that the resolutions reminded them of an email exchange between Pence adviser Claire Fiddian-Green and other Pence staff discussing ways to either remove or diminish Ritz's role as chair of the board. Spokesman David Galvin accused Pence's staff of orchestrating a "political circus", in part with creation of a new education agency last year that has competed with Ritz and the Department of Education.

Marian University President Dan Elsener, the board member who introduced a resolution which would shift certain powers to Pence's staff, said he is not trying to fight Ritz, but instead wants clarity on board operations. He cited Ritz's decision at their last meeting not to allow Oliver to bring a measure placing new oversight on the federal No Child waiver process.

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