The Democratic leader in the Indiana House today sharply criticized Republicans for a bill that would all but certainly lead to the removal of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz as chairwoman of the Indiana State Board of Education, but efforts to derail the bill failed.

Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said the battles between Ritz and Republican appointees on the state board were a manufactured crisis meant to pave the way for diminishing her power, a charge that brought a warning from House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, that he was coming close to violating House decorum rules.

“This is a created soap opera for the purpose of stripping Superintendent Ritz of her powers,” Pelath said, “the powers people understood she had when they elected her to lead our state education system.”

Ritz, the only Democrat holding statewide office in the Statehouse, spent most of the first two years of her four-year term crossing swords with Gov. Mike Pence and his appointees after her stunning upset of her predecessor, Tony Bennett, in the 2012 election.

“We know exactly what happened here,” Pelath said. “Your guy got beat because he had terrible policies and a lot of people didn’t like him.”

House Bill 1609 would remove the guarantee in state law that Ritz chair the state board, and allow a vote of Ritz and the 10 other appointed state board members to choose who serves as chair. Amendments that would have stripped that change from the bill and that would have changed the board from appointed to elected lost both lost by 2-to-1 margins in the heavily Republican House.

A final House vote on the bill is expected next week.

Other education bills discussed today included:

  • Dyslexia training, House Bill 1108. The bill, requiring teachers in training to know how to teach children with dyslexia, passed the House 97-0. It next will be considered by the Senate next month.
  • The “freedom to teach” bill, House Bill 1009. The bill, which would create special schools, school districts or zones of schools to try new teaching strategies, was amended to allow unions to organize teachers who work in the schools and passed the House Education Committee 13-0. It moves next to the full House for a vote expected as early as next week.
  • School transformation zones, House Bill 1638. An amended version of the bill would speed up the timeline by which a failing school can be taken over by the state. After four years of F grades, takeover could occur under the bill, sped up from six years. The takeover could include feeder schools as part of a “transformation zone.” House Bill 1638 was discussed in the House Education Committee, which expects to vote on it next week.