INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana's new Democratic state schools
superintendent would no longer oversee the private school voucher program
that she has opposed under a proposal approved Tuesday by a
Republican-controlled legislative committee.
Education Committee voted 7-4 along party lines to endorse the bill that
would move the handling of applications for the vouchers and distribution
of the money to the state's Office of Management and Budget, which reports
to Republican Gov. Mike Pence.
sparked quick criticism from Democrats, who accused Republicans of playing
politics with schools superintendent Glenda Ritz. The GOP controls the
General Assembly, the governor's office and all other elected executive
"We have one
lone Democrat serving in this entire Statehouse and it just happens to be
Superintendent Glenda Ritz," said Democratic Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh of
Crown Point, who charged the measure challenged Ritz's integrity and
capabilities. "This is very political."
was authored by committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, who
introduced the bill by citing Ritz's involvement in a lawsuit challenging
the constitutionality of the voucher program before her election last
"She does not
believe public dollars should go to private schools," said Behning, a
leading sponsor of the state voucher law adopted in 2011. "She's said that
many times, pre-election and postelection."
Democrats and a top aide to Ritz said she hasn't done anything to
interfere with the voucher program since she took office Jan. 14.
that it is an unnecessary taking away of a power of the superintendent at
a time when she has not even had the chance, really, to settle into her
job," said John Barnes, Ritz's legislative liaison.
Ritz, a former
suburban Indianapolis school librarian, won election last year with a
grass-roots campaign fueled by teacher anger over education changes
She was a
plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the voucher program but
withdrew after she won election. The state Supreme Court heard arguments
in that case in late November but hasn't yet ruled.
questioned why the Department of Education hadn't opened the voucher
application period for parents in February as former Republican
superintendent Tony Bennett had done.
some private schools told the committee that Department of Education's
decision to accept voucher applications in February last year helped
parents make early decisions on whether to enroll their children.
Central School Principal Ruth Tinsley said about 90 of 210 students
received vouchers to attend the Catholic school near downtown
will have to wait and are concerned about making that decision now because
without the vouchers they would not be able to attend the school," Tinsley
attributed delays to the recent transition in leadership and said the
agency hoped to begin accepting voucher applications soon.
education committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said Tuesday he would
consider holding a hearing on the voucher oversight proposal if it clears
the House. He had previously declined to take action on any Senate bills
that would shift responsibilities away from Ritz.
Kruse said he
hasn't heard any complaints about how the Education Department is handling
the voucher program.
"I think the
voucher law should be fully implemented by the Department of Education and
they should not stall or hold it up," Kruse said. "If they are stalling, I
would not like that."
The state is
paying some $37 million to provide voucher to about 9,100 students this
school year. The House Republican budget proposal forecasts spending for
the voucher program will grow over the next two years to $63 million
annually with 15,000 students.
House education chairman, said he had questioned whether the Education
Department was the proper agency to oversee the voucher program when it
was adopted two years ago and wasn't sure the Office of Management and
Budget would end up handling the process.
would rather create an independent group and create a structure that may
have more independence," he said. "That's just where it is today."