INDIANAPOLIS - Republicans have withdrawn a bill that would have stripped Democratic school Superintendent Glenda Ritz of one of her most important powers.
Republicans were on the verge Thursday of passing a bill to take away Ritz's power to administer the school voucher program and give it to the Pence administration, but they backed off after getting assurances from Ritz that she wasn't trying to sabotage the program.
Republicans said they were concerned Ritz was trying to deep-six the voucher program because they had not received any plans from her office for sending out the application forms for next year.
Former Superintendent Tony Bennett had sent them out before this point in the year.
But Ritz said that was never the plan, even though she opposes vouchers that use tax money to send kids to private schools.
"I don't think I did or said anything,” said Ritz. “Really, no one checked with my office regarding the voucher program and the window to open that process. My administration's been working on that. We're in transition. We've got a plan ready to go. And really I think it was miscommunication. Nobody really checked."
So when a high-level House Republican delegation visited Ritz's office this week, she assured them the application forms would go out no later than March 11.
"She was very forthright and said she intended to follow the law,” said Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis. “However, she does not believe that public dollars should go to private schools, but she understands that the legislature has passed that. And she intends to administer the program as the legislature has requested to do."
So Republicans sidetracked the bill to take away Ritz's authority over vouchers, but Democrats said this probably isn't over.
"It was nice that the Speaker went to see Supt. Ritz and say we're going to be nice to you today,” said Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Minority Leader. “But we have no illusions about that. Those power grabs are going to continue, because they cannot countenance the fact that there's a Democrat in a statewide office. It really makes them behave irrationally."
Key Republicans have warned that if Ritz doesn't administer the vouchers properly, they can always resurrect the language in the previous bill and take away her power to run the program.