On March 19, the Senate Education Committee passed House Bill 1005. House Bill 1005 gives the Governor control of the Indiana Department of Education in 2021 instead of the previously determined 2025. Instead of the Superintendent of Public Instruction being on the ballot for Hoosiers to elect, this position will be appointed by the Governor of Indiana.
This is a plan that has been in the making since 2013 when Glenda Ritz defeated then State Superintendent Tony Bennett in one of the biggest and most surprising political upsets in our state’s history. Then Indiana Governor Mike Pence and the Republican-controlled General Assembly shifted authority from the DOE to the state School Board. This was done to strip some of the control of the State Superintendent and made her term in the position difficult. There was an apparent disconnect between her and the Republican-appointed board.
There are roughly 37 states across the country where the school superintendent is an appointed position.
Current State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick released the following statement after the bill passed:
With today’s passing of House Bill 1005, the finish line for serving Indiana’s students with an elected State Superintendent has been determined. As the 44th State Superintendent, and one of only three women elected since 1852, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve. Indiana is home to over 1.2 million students and more than 75,000 educators. Each deserves our complete attention and support. While politics has been interjected into our education, at the end of the day the question should not be, ‘what side of the aisle are you on,’ but ‘are you on the side of kids?’ The 2020 gubernatorial race will deserve greater attention as our students’ futures are dependent upon it. Education impacts all of us. Our children, educators, and school communities deserve a strong, representative voice.
Dr. McCormick is right; there will now be more of an emphasis placed on what Governor candidates have to say about education.
With the passing of House Bill 1005, there is excitement and concern. One of the obvious concerns is Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction will essentially be a puppet of the Governor. One good aspect of having the position elected and not appointed is the Superintendent of Public Instruction can provide his or her assessment about the educational needs in the state without it feeling like words being sent down by the Governor. The passing of this bill puts back to the forefront the debate about traditional public schools and public charter schools. In recent years, the state superintendent has been a staunch defender and protector of the public schools, and with the Governor appointing the position, it could be a person who will push for more charter schools across the state. This is something that will not go over well with some Hoosiers.
The bill is a step in a different direction. Education across our state will begin to look different in 2021. The bill shows that those making the decisions for our state believe it is important to have someone in the role of now Education Secretary who will share the same views and the same goals as the Governor. The Senate Education committee believes this move will allow for the net to be cast wide when searching for someone to take on this role. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who is the sponsor of the bill, believes having the appointed education secretary would be “an opportunity to attract some talent that would not want to make the sacrifice to run for statewide elected office.” According to the language of the bill, the Governor shall establish residency, education, and experience qualifications for the secretary of education. The Governor can appoint whoever he or she pleases and determined relevant qualifications for the role.
Only time will tell whether or not this was the right decision. I do know when I am looking at the candidates for Governor, their policy and stance on education will be an area I strongly consider. As an educator, I am always thinking about the children. I wonder if the decision is about having control and power or about what to do to ensure the legislation that comes out is in support of the students across our state. I hope that when the Governor of 2020 is sworn in and he or she begins the process of searching and selecting an Education Secretary that the person will remember it is about all students of the state.
Whether public, charter or private, it is about the students.