BEHNING: An appointed superintendent would streamline education

December 24, 2011

Robert BehningQuestion: Should the state superintendent of public instruction be elected or appointed by the governor?

The political nature of education policy is problematic given our current system of governance. In Indiana, we elect our superintendent of public instruction and the governor appoints the State Board of Education.

This system creates gridlock and problems when the superintendent and governor do not agree on education policy. The governor has control over the state board, but the superintendent controls the agenda.

For effective, coordinated education policy to become a reality in Indiana, it makes much more sense for the governor to appoint the superintendent of public instruction.

The electorate sees the governor as an education leader. Education is one of the most important aspects of a governor’s agenda because educating future generations is vital to the growth and prosperity of our state.

Currently, the governor does not have the authority to execute education policy, but I believe he or she should have input on the individuals who do.

It is imperative that the governor and superintendent be on the same page when it comes to the direction of a state’s education policy. If the offices are not coordinated, discombobulated education policies can occur.

This issue is often the case if the governor and superintendent are elected from different parties, resulting in political gridlock.

The superintendent is charged with implementing the law; however, he can circumvent laws passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor—preventing change.

Our current superintendent and governor are of the same opinion when it comes to the direction of education in Indiana. Working together, they brought education reform to Indiana and have fundamentally strengthened K-12 education.

If they were of opposite opinion, we would be facing a much different education landscape.

In addition, the largest appropriation of state dollars is dedicated to K-12 education, which accounts for 52 percent of the 2011 state budget. The chief executive should have a say in who executes the allocation of this money.

This is a significant portion of our budget and it is imperative that the two offices be aligned on what the direction of K-12 education in Indiana needs to be.

As most of you know, education policy extends far beyond the classroom. It affects every agency in our state and federal government from economic development to unemployment to health care.

None are mutually exclusive and each affects the other. Given the broad scope of its impact on society, we must structure our government to reflect this notion.

Thirty-six other states have instituted this policy; why hasn’t Indiana?

Concerning higher education in Indiana, the governor already appoints the commissioner for higher education. If we are already successfully employing this process in our higher education system, why are we not for K-12 education?

All education leadership positions should fall underneath the executive office. Having clear, cohesive education policies being pursued is fundamental to having a thriving education system in Indiana.

It is crucial that we get education right. If we do not, the entire state suffers. Moving the office of the superintendent of public instruction from elected to appointed is a step in the right direction for Hoosier parents, educators and students.•


Behning represents Indiana House District 91 in Indianapolis, and chairs the Education Committee. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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