Speaker’s bill would eliminate state superintendent position

By Dustin Beach
TheStatehouseFile.com 

INDIANAPOLIS – The House version of a bill to remove the superintendent of public instruction position from Indiana ballots passed another hurdle Tuesday.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, speaks to the House Education Committee on House Bill 1005, which would eliminate the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Position. Photo by Dustin Beach, TheStatehouseFile.com

House Bill 1005, authored by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, would eliminate the position of the superintendent of public instruction following the 2020 election, which is also the end of the term for the current superintendent. Following that time, the current governor would be tasked with naming a secretary of education. The House Education Committee passed the bill 10-3.

Bosma reiterated that the General Assembly is in charge of legislating education policy and the superintendent’s job to carry it out. He said the bill would make the executive branch align with an executive office.

“The purpose of House Bill 1005 is to align what I believe most Hoosiers believe is the responsibility for education. Who leads the government? Chief executive for administering policies that are adopted by the General Assembly or the State Board of Education,” he said to allude to how the new secretary’s office would work.

The bill is similar to legislation that is currently making its way through the Senate. That bill was amended on Tuesday to change the date it takes effect to 2021, the same as House Bill 1005.

Indiana is one of only 13 states that still elects its highest education official, and one of only nine who do so on party tickets. Bosma noted this has been a debate at the Statehouse for 32 years, and reaffirmed the notion that it has had bipartisan support over that time.

“Over the years, virtually every administration has endorsed this,” Bosma said. “In 2001, the O’Bannon Administration received a report from the National Association of State Boards of Education and the National Governor’s Association endorsed the concept.”

Supporters of the bill say it will make governor responsible for the education of Indiana’s children, and ensures there be little discord between the executive branch and the Department of Education.

Vic Smith, a retired educator, warns the committee that House Bill 1005 would harm democracy. Photo by Dustin Beach, TheStatehouseFile.com

“We have experienced dysfunction and acrimony over the past four years, and education policy often stood at a standstill,” said Caryl Auslander, vice president of education and workforce development policy at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. “And who is hurt the most during this period were Hoosier children.”

Bosma recounted the story of Harold Negley, the superintendent of public instruction from 1973-1985, who was indicted on charges of conducting campaign activities on state time. Since then, there has been a movement to make the superintendent’s job an appointed one. Other supporters mirrored Bosma’s comments in a call to remove politics out of education.

“First and foremost is that for every minute that the superintendent does not spend on the political chicken dinner circuit, more time will be spent dedicated to the improvement of Hoosier schools,” said Gordon Hendry, a member of the Indiana State Board of Education.

Opponents say the move strips away the power of democracy, as they feel the voters have a right to choose who heads the Department of Education.

“Our democracy would take a hit. We should not reduce the power of voters to select the state superintendent of public instruction,” said Vic Smith, a retired educator.

As for Bosma, he wants an end to this decades-long debate.

“Now is the time to make this change,” he said.

 Dustin Beach is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Adrianna Pitrelli contributed to this report.

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