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Governor muddies up waters of education accountability

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INDIANAPOLIS — After Gov. Mike Pence announced his new Center for Education and Career Innovation on Friday, I decided to make a flow chart showing what state officials and boards and agencies reported to which other ones.

So I turned to our office whiteboard with a dry erase marker in hand. But after only minutes, it felt like I was doing more erasing than writing (is that possible?) as I tried to determine how education policy would now be made in Indiana.

I finally gave up.

But before you judge me, consider the elements in place even before Pence signed his executive order creating a new agency (and there might be a quiz at the end of this column):

The Indiana Department of Education, which is headed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat elected by voters last November.

The State Board of Education, which is headed by the state superintendent and whose members are appointed by the governor, sets the policy for the education department.

The Indiana Education Roundtable, a bipartisan group of business and education leaders who advise the education department and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. The roundtable has co-chairs — the governor and the state superintendent.

The Commission for Higher Education, which oversees state student assistance, reviews university budgets and approves new majors and programs but has little say over the operations of state colleges and universities.

The new Indiana Works Councils, created by the General Assembly earlier this year at the request of Pence, which are meant to coordinate vocational education in regions across the state.

The new Indiana Career Council, also created this year by lawmakers, which is meant to coordinate the state’s job training and educational efforts with the needs of Hoosiers businesses.

And of course, there’s the General Assembly, which writes the laws that pretty much create all these groups and boards and sets overall education policy.

Confused? Just wait.

Pence announced Friday that in order to bring all these efforts together, he would create yet another new group, the Center for Education and Career Innovation, which will report directly to him.

“All of these disparate entities that have grown up over different years and have different responsibilities in terms of policy innovation have a place to come together, to think together,” Pence said.

And he said that the Indiana Career Council, the Indiana Works Councils, the Education Roundtable and the State Board of Education will become part of the new agency, although they also will continue to act independently.

The executive order that Pence signed to create the center even says the agency will capture the funding for those boards. That’s especially interesting because the education department has traditionally handled the funding and staffing for the State Board of Education. But after Ritz was elected — the first Democrat to hold the post in four decades — board members decided to take more control over their funding and hire their own staff.

So here’s my take now on the education policy flow chart:

The education department answers to the state superintendent, who answers, at least to some degree, to the State Board of Education. The board is now part of the Center for Education and Career Innovation, which reports to the governor and is also home to the Indiana Education Roundtable, which advises the Board of Education. And the center is also home to the new Indiana Works Councils and the Indiana Career Council, which are both meant to coordinate education efforts and career training.

I’m not making this up.

Certainly, there’s no reason to doubt the governor’s motives or those of lawmakers or the state superintendent or the dozens of people serving on these various boards and councils. These are people who care about helping kids and adults become better prepared for whatever jobs and careers await them.

The resulting system, though, is so convoluted it seems impossible to know who’s responsible for what and whom to hold accountable for student outcomes. And that’s a problem.

But don’t worry: There’s no quiz after all. I’m not confident I understand it all enough to grade it.

Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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