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Union-affiliated teachers attended a rally for Superintendent Glenda Ritz last year. Teachers unions led the charge against Senate Bill 10.

Union-affiliated teachers attended a rally for Superintendent Glenda Ritz last year. Teachers unions led the charge against Senate Bill 10.

Scott Elliott

Concerns over teacher evaluation sink bill aimed at Glenda Ritz

House Republicans spent much of the past six weeks trying to empower the Indiana State Board of Education so it has more control over decisions that now are managed by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, but concerns about unrelated changes to teacher evaluation stymied that effort today.

House Bill 1072, which was overhauled last week by an amendment to require the education department to share data with the state board and consult with its members on testing contracts, was supposed to be a friendlier approach to addressing complaints from Ritz’s fellow Indiana State Board of Education members.

It took the place of the much more aggressive House Bill 1486, which would have given the state board specific authority over testing, standards, student data, state takeover, teacher evaluation and other functions that now are the responsibility of Ritz and the education department.

But also in House Bill 1072 was a provision to allow the state board to set minimum requirements for how much student test scores factor into teacher evaluations. That’s a decision local schools get to make under current law.

Test scores and teacher evaluation is a touchy issue, and some Republicans had deep enough concerns about that part of the bill to scuttle it by a close 51-42 vote in the heavily Republican House.

“Losing that local control is something I’m keeping an eye on,” said Rep. Randy Truitt, R-West Lafayette.

The bill’s defeat surprised House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

“I”m wondering what happened with that one myself,” Bosma said. “That was a fairly important bill and we’ll have to look for another vehicle in the second half for some of the clarifications and revisions.”

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said “education fatigue” is starting to set in. Bosma agreed, saying he thought the bill’s defeat was about more than concerns over teacher evaluation.

“I think there’s been a lot of discussion about education issues and priorities this year, and people are getting a little weary of the discussion, is what I would guess,” Bosma said.

The bill’s author, Jeff Thompson, R-Lizton, argued fruitlessly that the bill would not result in a significant loss of local control over evaluation. It just allows the state board to have a role in approving changes in local districts’ evaluation plans.

“It allows them to set some bumpers,” he said.

But Democrat Melanie Wright urged lawmakers to resist making more changes to Indiana’s teacher evaluation system.

“It’s one more way that we are yet again micromanaged at the local level,” said Rep. Melanie Wright, D-Yorktown. “When is it going to stop? Our kids are losing out.”

The end result is that the House likely will not approve any bills to change oversight of testing and other functions Ritz oversees before this week’s deadline to send bills to the Senate.

It did pass House Bill 1609, which would remove the guarantee that Ritz serve as the state board chairwoman, however. That bill, and a similar measure passed by the Senate, prompted Ritz supporters to hold Statehouse rally on her behalf last week.

Other changes to the superintendent or state board roles could reappear as amendments to other bills when the Senate and House return to work next month.

In other action by the House today, the House passed a budget that would shift aid toward wealthy schools 68-29.

Democratic amendments to change the school funding formula in the House budget and to add a rule make textbooks free to families both failed. Democrats complained that some school districts, especially those with large numbers of poor children, would lose money in the new funding formula even while the state spends significantly more on schools. Republicans argue the primary problem is those districts are losing students.

The funding amendment failed 67-28. The textbook amendment failed 67-29. Indiana is one of two states that does not provide free textbooks.