Senate committee votes to appoint, not elect state’s chief educator

By Janet Williams
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana has moved one step closer to making the superintendent for public instruction an appointed rather than an elected position.

The Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee voted 8-4 Monday to advance legislation that would give the governor the power to appoint the state’s top educator in 2025.

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, who chaired the meeting, quickly shot down challenges by Democrats on the committee who protested that the measure was substantially the same as one narrowly defeated by the full Senate in February.

Long, R-Fort Wayne, said it was different because House Bill 1005 was amended to change the date the bill would take effect from 2021 to 2025 and added a number of requirements for the person selected for the role.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, right, tells Senate President Pro Tempore David Long about HB 1005, which makes the state’s top educator an appointed position. Photo by Janet Williams, TheStatehouseFile.com

The newest version of the bill would require the superintendent to have lived in Indiana for at least two years, possess an advanced degree, and have been a teacher, principal or superintendent or licensed as one.

“Governors and other state leaders of both major political parties have publicly supported the concept of an appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction for decades,” Long said in a statement. “I believe now is the time to make it happen.”

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, called the changes window dressing and said the heart of the bill remains unchanged – making a shift from an elected to an appointed superintendent of public instruction.

“No matter what the amendments say, this does the exact same thing as the earlier bill,” he said.

In a separate statement, Lanane accused Senate Republicans of rushing the bill through the chamber.

“There is no reason Statehouse Republicans have to get this done this legislative session,” he said. “The only reason they are pushing the rules to the side is to hide the fact they were not able to get the Senate version of the bill through their own caucus.”

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. Photo by Ashley Shuler, TheStatehouseFile.com

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and sponsor of the HB 1005, told the Senate committee that Republican and Democratic governors alike have favored making the position an appointed one.

Joining Bosma in encouraging a yes vote on the bill were the Indianapolis and Indiana chambers of commerce as well as a representative from the Institute for Quality Education, an organization promoting school choice programs.

“Taxpayers don’t always know who’s in charge or who’s responsible,” said Caitlin Bell, vice president, policy and government affairs for IQE. She argued that the governor should be the person held responsible for education in Indiana.

Though no one openly discussed the turmoil in the office when the former Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, clashed with former Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, there were references to the acrimony and dysfunction of that era.

“The office was at a standstill the past four years,” said Caryl Auslander, vice president/education of workforce development policy for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. She suggested that the changes be made effective in 2021.

Opposing the bill were representatives from the American Federation of Teachers, the Indiana State Teachers Association and the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, arguing that voters should choose the state’s chief educator.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has previously said that he supports making the position appointed rather than elected.

Current Superintendent for Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, who was elected to the position in November, was not available for comment.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

Janet Williams is editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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