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Lawmakers send bill creating data czar to Pence

Fredrik Olofsson via Flickr

A bill that would collect education data under a new state agency has overcome early opposition to win approval from the legislature.

House Bill 1003, authored by Rep. Steve Braun, R-Zionsville, aims to bring together data from K-12 schools, colleges, the state’s workforce development arm and business leaders with the goal of spotting trends and helping schools adapt to employer needs. A revised version of the bill passed the House 99-0 and Senate 33-15 today and is headed to Gov. Mike Pence for his signature.

When introduced, the bill raised alarms from state Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s supporters, who initially believed it was a power grab. But changes to the bill since then reassured skeptics that it would not take authority away from Ritz or the Indiana State Board of Education.

Ritz battled with Gov. Mike Pence last year over an agency he created, the Center for Education and Career Innovation, arguing the center’s hiring of a separate staff for the state board usurped duties assigned to her in law.

Among Ritz’s battles with the state board last fall was a dispute centered on who had authority to issue A to F school grades. The other 10 board members sparked a lawsuit from Ritz, the board’s chair, by writing a letter to legislative leaders asking for their help to issue the grades, which they complained should have been released earlier. Ritz said they were delayed because of testing errors.

Ritz’s suit, which alleged that by crafting the letter the other board members held a secret meeting in violation of state transparency laws, was dismissed because she did not consulted Attorney General Greg Zoeller before filing it. The A to F grades were released in December, nearly two months later than last year.

In the end, Ritz did not object to the bill.

Despite House Bill 1003’s success, the 2014 legislature did less to address questions of education data management and privacy than expected. What appeared to be a big focus for lawmakers early on fizzled beyond Braun’s bill.

Two bills that would have taken steps to redefine how the state’s education data is managed, accessed and stored, died in the legislature last month and the concepts in those bills did not resurface as amendments in any other bills.

House Bill 1320, which would have created a data repository for parents, but some critics worried that it could make student personal information more vulnerable to be shared beyond schools and children’s families. Another, Senate Bill 277, was specifically designed to protect student information. It died after the author recognized technical errors in the bill language that it was too late to fix.

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