INDIANAPOLIS | Members of the Republican-appointed State Board of Education got snippy Tuesday with Glenda Ritz, the Democratic state superintendent of public instruction, during an emergency meeting on the potential loss of a key waiver of some federal education requirements.
Daniel Elsener, David Freitas and Brad Oliver all blamed Ritz for the U.S. Department of Education's putting Indiana's No Child Left Behind waiver on "conditional" status, a possible prelude to revocation and the loss of state and local spending flexibility of $25 million to $30 million a year in federal funds.
"While we're here today to assist, facilitate and provide guidance, I believe the responsibility rests squarely on the superintendent as our leader, as well as the (Indiana) Department of Education," Freitas said.
Elsener said the situation is "very serious" and insisted "better leadership" is needed. He demanded Ritz's staff explain "where we're at, why and how we get better in a hurry."
For more than four hours, experts from Ritz's Department of Education repeatedly explained to the board that Indiana is not living up to promises made by Republican former State Superintendent Tony Bennett that were required to obtain the flexibility waiver from the federal government.
Among them, Bennett pledged Indiana would adopt Common Core as the state's educational standards and participate in a Common Core testing consortium.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly last year required Indiana pause implementing Common Core and quit the national testing group. The State Board of Education last month adopted new Indiana education standards to entirely replace Common Core.
Ritz explained that she expected federal officials would condition Indiana's waiver based on that change.
The U.S. Department of Education also expressed concern with how the state monitored low-performing schools between February 2012 and August 2013. Ritz took office in January 2013.
She said her staff is speaking multiple times a week with federal education officials to discuss what oversight changes are necessary to maintain Indiana's waiver. Proposed amendments are due at the end of June.
"Did the department know we had work to do? You betcha," Ritz said. "(We're) fully prepared to submit the information needed to receive a waiver extension."