Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

With A New Superintendent, Which Policies Hang In The Balance?

    On Nov. 8, 2016 Republican Jennifer McCormick beat Democrat incumbent Glenda Ritz for the position of state superintendent of public instruction. (Eric Weddle/WFYI)

    On Nov. 8, 2016 Republican Jennifer McCormick beat Democrat incumbent Glenda Ritz for the position of state superintendent of public instruction. (photo credit: Eric Weddle/WFYI)

    With Jennifer McCormick’s defeat of current State Superintendent Glenda Ritz on Tuesday, the Ritz administration now has two more months in office. McCormick will be sworn in in January.

    The unexpected election result came in the middle of huge education policy transitions in the state.  Responsibility for that will transfer from Ritz’s administration to a new, unknown administration under McCormick.

    The creation of a new state assessment

    Last legislative session, the General Assembly passed a law scrapping the ISTEP in its current form. The law also created a panel of educators and stakeholders to create recommendations for a new statewide test. This panel has met for the last six months, hearing from experts across the country about best practices for creating an assessment.

    While the panel will submit its final recommendations to the General Assembly by Dec. 1, the Legislature will ultimately decide how to move forward. Superintendent-elect McCormick says she hopes they look to her and her department for guidance for this huge education legislation.

    As she transitions from her current job as superintendent of Yorktown Schools, she will have a surrogate attend the second to last ISTEP panel meeting. She plans to be at the very last one, where the final plan is submitted.

    School funding

    The 2017 General Assembly is a budget session, which happens every other year. Over 50 percent of the Indiana’s budget funds education. McCormick campaigned on similar policies to current state superintendent Ritz. She says more state funding should go to public schools, especially schools educating students with more needs.

    In 2015, the Legislature updated the school funding formula to make the funding more equal across the board. But schools with high numbers of students living in poverty received around the same state funding as schools with more well-off students.

    This year, the Legislature has the opportunity to tweak that formula. No legislators have said they plan to overhaul it, though.

    Because McCormick’s belief on funding don’t exactly match other Republicans in the General Assembly, she’s interested to see how she and the Legislature will work together.

    “I’m realistic that we are not always going to agree on items and that will take communication and being willing to listen,” McCormick says. “I plan to be a voice in making sure my agenda is brought forward. Mine will represent a lot of concern from the field, because I think that’s one area that’s obviously not been heard for a while.”

    Compliance to the new federal education law

    Last year, President Obama signed into las a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces No Child Left Behind. It’s an education law that gives states much more freedom with how they test students and rate schools and teachers.

    The Ritz administration has worked all year on a plan for how Indiana will comply with ESSA and use its new freedoms. Up until Tuesday, they planned to submit this to the federal government by March.

    McCormick and Ritz are meeting next week to discuss the transition, including how to move forward with the ESSA plan. She says she will ask Ritz for an update on on the plan thus far, but also has other questions in mind.

    “Now that we have a new president-elect, what happens with ESSA?” McCormick says. “What happens to those timelines for submission for the state, so I’m watching that carefully as well.”

    Transition plans

    During the meeting next week with Ritz, McCormick also plans to talk to Ritz about staffing the Department of Education. She says she does not plan to completely overhaul the department, but will conduct an internal audit and decide how to go forward with retaining or hiring staff.

    During the campaign, Ritz supporters criticized McCormick saying if elected she would be a return to the Tony Bennett era. But McCormick says the fact that she is a career educator rather than a career politician makes her different.

    “I understand educators being nervous about change,” McCormick says. “I’m hoping that teachers and educators … will give us a chance. I think within six months to a year people will begin to relax and feel comfortable.”


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