INDIANAPOLIS — A new critique of Indiana's efforts to maintain its exemptions from the No Child Left Behind requirements, written by top staff to Gov. Mike Pence, is widening a rift between state education leaders as federal officials near a decision on the waiver.
The tersely worded memo from Pence's Center for Education and Career Innovation dissects and criticizes the waiver submission by Democratic Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz piece by piece, down to grammatical errors. CECI executive director Claire Fiddian-Green also said Wednesday that the Ritz team made key changes in the waiver without consulting the State Board of Education.
Federal officials will decide whether Indiana keeps its waiver, which plays a critical role in determining how much say the state will have in how millions of federal Title I dollars are spent. An answer could come as early as Thursday.
Anne Hyslop, education policy analyst with the New America Foundation in Washington, said the memo just stokes concerns already raised by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who expressed dismay over Indiana's "deep dysfunction" earlier this year.
"I think this 28-page memo doesn't help the state's chances. It's really demonstrating this dysfunction that Secretary Duncan was worried about 8 months ago," Hyslop said. "If they can find a way to work together, or at least fight not so publicly, that would help smooth the way."
Still, Hyslop added that federal officials generally want states to keep their waivers and said Indiana could possibly keep its waiver while being placed on watch by the U.S. department.
Both Ritz and Pence have said they want to see the state maintain its waiver. Federal officials alerted the state in late April that its waiver was in jeopardy because of problems monitoring low-performing schools, they also cited impacts from the state's decision to ditch national Common Core education standards.
Washington state is the only state to have received a waiver and then lost it.
Fiddian-Green, who also serves as Pence's top education adviser, said she discovered many instances where Ritz's staff was making crucial policy decisions inside the federal waiver, effectively going around the State Board of Education board.
She also added: "The status of our waiver was a direct result of the implementation concerns as of the August visit. So any threat to the status of our waiver really has to do with implementation concerns that the U.S. Department of Education had identified as of August of last year," she said.
The critique, which was drafted by CECI staff, was not requested by any members of the State Board of Education. Fiddian-Green defended the memo, saying CECI staff members, who also work for the Board of Education, are expected to provide analysis and don't have to be asked by board member to do so.
"I'm uncertain what impact it has," said Ritz spokesman David Galvin. He noted that Pence's staff was included on the phone calls held with federal officials in May and June and that these concerns were not raised then.
Galvin said Pence created the department to "interfere" with Ritz's work.
A Duncan spokeswoman did not return requests for comment Wednesday on what effect, if any, the critique will have on the state's request.
The report often focuses on policy disagreements, but at times questions the ability of Department of Education staff to do basic tasks.
"The breadth and depth of monitoring, oversight and technical assistance duties required of the 13 outreach coordinators raises questions regarding the capacity of these individuals to perform such important work in support of all Indiana districts and schools," the CECI staff wrote of the DOE staff charged with monitoring low-performing schools.