By Dustin Beach
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana House took the final step to make the state’s top education official an appointed position and not an elected one.
House Bill 1005, authored by Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, would remove the superintendent of public instruction from Indiana ballots and replace it with a governor-appointed secretary of education.
The original bill had this taking effect in 2021, but a Senate amendment changed the date until 2025.The House voted 66-31 Tuesday to agree with the Senate changes.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, debate the pros and cons of Bosma’s superintendent bill. The bill would allow the governor to appoint the state’s education chief beginning in 2025. Photo by Katie Stancombe
Bosma said the discussion about this topic has been going on for decades and has seen bipartisan support over that time.
“Both parties have said this is a good idea at various times,” he said. “It is the right thing to do.”
Similar legislation was heard in the Senate earlier this session. Its version of the bill was voted down on the floor, and Senate rules bar any legislation with similar language to a bill that has been voted down from being heard in that chamber during the same session.
When the House version of the bill crossed over, the Senate Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee amended the bill so it could continue moving through the legislative process. The changes included the effective date and qualifications that the appointed school chief would need, such as a two-year residency requirement and having an advanced degree, preferably in education.
Bosma said he would support the changes even if they were not what he originally wanted for the position.
“They weren’t my first preference, but I understand the desire to include them,” he said.
Supporters of the bill have said making the top education official an appointed position would take the politics out of education and lead to more agreement between the executive branch and the superintendent. Supporters pointed to the hostility between former Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, and the former superintendent of public instruction, Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, during their four years of working together.
Opponents of the bill have argued that this move would strip Hoosiers of their right to vote directly for the person who oversees Indiana’s education policies.
“To take away the vote of constituents is just a huge, huge concern for me,” said Rep. Melanie Wright, D-Yorktown.
Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, who co-authored the original bill, voted against the motion to agree with the changes because he felt 2025 was too far in the future for this to work.
“If we need to have an appointed superintendent, then we need it now,” he said.
Current Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who was elected last November, expressed her views on the bill by saying she will continue to work for Hoosier educational values.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick Photo by Eddie Drews, TheStatehouseFile.com
“In regards to House Bill 1005, I respect the sensitivity surrounding this bill as it will have an impact on students, educators, and families across Indiana. As State Superintendent, I will remain focused on providing leadership and support for Indiana schools in order to optimize student opportunities and outcomes. The Department of Education will continue to work at all levels and across both aisles to ensure the success of Indiana’s education,” she said in a written statement.
The bill now only needs the signature of Gov. Eric Holcomb to become law. Holcomb voiced his support for the appointed position in a tweet shortly after the vote:
“Kudos to lawmakers for fixing a decades-long problem & putting students 1st by making the Supt. of Public Instruction an appointed position.”
Dustin Beach is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.