Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

July 8, 2014

TOM LoBIANCO: Pence, Ritz seek federal dollars without strings attached

Question over money reignites fight at Board of Education

Last week saw two diametrically opposed Indiana politicians go to great lengths to ensure the state wins large sums of federal money without the strings that are normally attached.

Last Monday, Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, filed a request with the U.S. Department of Education to continue using federal “Title I” education money with flexibility. A day later, Republican Gov. Mike Pence asked the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to grant the state an exemption — and about $16.5 billion — to expand Medicaid using a version of the Healthy Indiana Plan.

The federal government’s say in how the state operates has been a point of contention for some of Indiana’s leaders. For example, Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, led the drive to pull Indiana out of the Common Core national education standards. But he removed his name from the legislation that formally ended the state’s involvement when a caveat was added — that Indiana would do whatever was needed to maintain federal funding.

The question of control over federal dollars has also reignited dormant battles at the State Board of Education between Ritz and board members appointed by Pence and former Gov. Mitch Daniels.

If Indiana does not win its education waiver, schools would have to follow strict rules under the No Child Left Behind Act and new monetary restrictions that could hinder paying for teachers. Even the request for an exemption has come with requirements — most notably the start of a new statewide student test in the fall — but Ritz and others determined they would be much less onerous than what the state would face without the exemption.

Ritz said her staff and others put in “countless hours of work” to ensure Indiana maintains its waiver.

“Because of their work, I believe that Hoosier schools will have much needed flexibility over how they use some of their federal funding. Most importantly, this flexibility will improve education for our students,” Ritz said in a statement.

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