School superintendents would no longer have to hold an Indiana superintendent's or teacher's license under a bill endorsed Tuesday by an Indiana House committee.
Supporters argued that the proposal would give more flexibility to local school boards over whom they could hire as their top district administrator. Opponents of the change said they worried that the state would be lowering its expectations by allowing superintendents without classroom experience.
The House Education Committee voted 9-4 to approve the bill, sending it to the full House for consideration.
Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, described the change he sponsored as deregulating local school boards, which could still require applicants for superintendent positions to have a state license.
Huston pointed to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who wasn't a teacher before becoming CEO of the Chicago Public Schools and then the country's top education official.
"I don't think this bill lowers standards. I think it gives flexibility and opens up the pool of applicants to be as large as the local school board thinks is necessary to best meet their school needs," said Huston, who was a chief of staff to former Republican state schools superintendent Tony Bennett.
School district superintendents are currently required to have a teacher's license and complete graduate school work in school administration.
Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, said she shared the opinion of teacher groups that the importance of classroom experience was being discounted.
Derek Redelman, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce's vice president on education policy, said that the state's nearly 300 school districts should be able to decide whether they want a top administrator with more management experience.
"When you create licensing requirements here at the state, that ... is the assumption that they're all the same," Redelman said. "What this does is to give flexibility to match skills to very different needs."
Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said a school district superintendent needed to be an education leader able to oversee tasks as varied as staff and curriculum development, textbook selection and analysis of test results.
"Everybody cannot just do that, just walk in and do that," said Smith, an education professor at Indiana University Northwest in Gary. "... What we are doing here is diluting the profession, and I can never vote for a bill like this."
The new proposal follows steps backed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in the past couple years that make it easier for teachers to switch subject areas and to obtain teaching licenses without a college degree in education.