INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- A state board on Wednesday approved changes to how teachers and school administrators are licensed in Indiana, giving the departing schools superintendent one final victory.
Democrat Glenda Ritz, the incoming superintendent of public instruction who beat Republican incumbent Tony Bennett in November, opposed the changes and had asked State Board of Education members to delay voting on them until she took office in January. But the board went ahead and voted 9-2 Wednesday in favor of an amended plan which would make it easier for teachers to gain licenses in Indiana.
"That pre-service training and licensing for our educators is very important and we cannot afford to have anything in the way of putting unqualified teachers in our classrooms," Ritz said at the start of the meeting.
The changes would make it easier for teachers to switch subject areas and for schools to hire "adjunct" teachers if they received an undergraduate degree, scored at least a 3.0 GPA and undergo training. Supporters said the changes will give administrators more options for hiring teachers.
But teachers, parents and school administrators testified against the changes over roughly two hours at the meeting, occasionally telling horror stories of untrained teachers struggling to manage classrooms. Laura Fred-Smith told the panel about troubles with a student teacher who had completed online courses before coming to her school in Winamac.
The prospective teacher, whom Fred-Smith did not name, watched helplessly as students built a pyramid of chairs and then climbed them.
"He didn't feel he could tell the students, 'you shouldn't be standing on top of all of these chairs,' because he didn't know how to approach it," she said. "He is one of those people, who, with this (new licensing standard) we'll have more of."
But board members, including Marian University President Daniel Elsener, countered that school administrators still bear the ultimate responsibility of hiring teachers.
"If desks are being piled up and kids are climbing on them, you're going to be accountable," he said. "So you're going to hire people who are accountable and you're going to manage it and you're going to be responsible."
Wednesday's meeting also gave a preview of what is likely to be a tense relationship between Ritz, who will chair the school board, and some of its members appointed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels who are supporters of Bennett.
Jo Blacketor, a board member and education activist from South Bend, noted the school board had been working on the licensing changes for more than a year before Ritz asked for the delay. She also warned Ritz that the number of votes she got on Election Day represented a small fraction of the state population and did not include any of the children in Indiana schools under 18. Ritz collected roughly 140,000 more votes than Bennett and roughly 60,000 more than Republican Gov.-elect Mike Pence.
Bennett said after the meeting that he didn't view the changes as a win over Ritz or the handful of amendments to the proposal as a backlash against him.
"Everyone knows Indiana is going down paths many other states haven't had the courage to go through," he said. "I don't see this as big concessions. I don't see this as winners and losers. And people want to go out there and thump their chests and guys like you want to write this stuff. You know, I don't buy it. It's about getting a policy right."
Bennett is in the running for Florida's state schools chief. He said he expects to hear by Jan. 11 whether he will be moving south.