Indiana Governor-elect Eric Holcomb says changing the state’s top education official into an appointed, not elected, position will be one his top priorities during the 2017 legislative session.
Holcomb wants to eliminate the elected state superintendent of public instruction position, in favor of an appointed secretary of education.
“This is not about the person, me or the superintendent,” Holcomb says. “This is about the position and how they can be aligned to work truly together.”
Currently, Indiana is one of 13 states that elect a school chiefs.
During her election bid, state superintendent-elect Jennifer McCormick supported making her position an appointed one. In response to the governor-elect’s announcement, she didn’t go that far.
“I do not view this as a personal reflection of my ability or willingness to effectively work with the Governor,” McCormick said, in a statement. “While I value the notion of a separation of powers between the Governor and state superintendent, I fully recognize that the governor and state superintendent must work collaboratively.”
Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, says an appointed position could make it easier to create education policy.
“When the elected officials get to make the appointments, then they have decision-makers in place who are going to advocate for their policies,” Downs says.
But, he says, there’s a flipside.
“The moment you have a governor and an appointed superintendent who want to do something people believe is wrong for education, you’ve lost one of the abilities to fight against those sorts of moves,” Downs says.
The Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, have publicly rebuffed the move.
“Whenever you take away an elected office, it means taking away the voice of the voters,” said Teresa Meredith, ISTA president, in a statement. “The role of the state superintendent is vitally important and voters deserve to have a say in who leads Indiana’s public schools.”
This isn’t the first time the issue has been brought up in the Legislature. Previous attempts were controversial. Republican lawmakers sought to make the position an appointed one when Democrat Glenda Ritz was in office, a move that was criticized as political.
Legislators plan to file a bill, authored by House Speaker Brian Bosma, next week to make the schools’ chief an appointed position.