RITZ: Let public choose superintendent of public instruction

March 11, 2017

For 166 years, Indiana has elected its superintendent of public instruction. While some people want to undo this time-honored tradition, there are three main reasons Indiana should continue to elect the person who oversees the Indiana Department of Education.

First, Hoosier voters should remain the check and balance to ensure their future generations receive the education support needed for the state’s economic viability.

Looking at the state’s voting history, the superintendent of public instruction usually receives more votes than the governor. Since 1989, voters have chosen a superintendentof a different political partythan the governor 69 percent of the time (20 years of service), as opposed to choosing the same party only 31 percent of the time (nine years). Voters are making informed decisions.

Voters expect the elected superintendent to have the expertise to oversee our education system, and voters want to see the governor and General Assembly work alongside this elected official, regardless of political party. The people of Indiana have shown they care about this single-issue election; Hoosiers have strong values regarding education.

Stripping away the power of the voters leaves the education of our children subject to only partisan political initiatives as we elect a governor. Currently, Indiana has a great check and balance to develop and implement education policy. We have a State Board of Education with shared appointments by the governor and the Senate and House leaders, and we elect our officials and members of the General Assembly. This balance of governance leads to democratic discussions of education policy that affect all pre-K-to-grade-12 students and their families. While it might be messy at times, this is democracy in action.

Proponents of appointing the position argue that having the superintendent be of the same party eliminates political strife. In reality, despite the hype of the political differences between Gov. Pence and me, we worked with all the policymakers (sometimes separately, sometimes together) to enact school safety measures, begin pre-K programming, implement new Indiana academic standards, increase funding for schools, elevate the conversation about responsible testing of our students, increase the awareness and urgency of action that is needed to recruit and retain our educators, and work toward more fair and transparent school accountability.

Second, voters should have a separate elected official overseeing the expenditure of over half the state’s budget. Yes, more than 50 percent of the state’s budget serves pre-K-to-12 education. The superintendent should be accountable not only to the governor and the General Assembly, but also to the voters, for the expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

Third, families and students deserve to have continuity of support to their schools. While only 13 states now have elected superintendents, these states are also guaranteed consistency of service to their schools for, at minimum, a four-year term. So many superintendents have become appointed in the United States that their average tenure is only 2.87 years. Appointed persons have no allegiance to stay in the position and can be removed at the discretion of whoever appoints them. This creates a lack of stability for our education system and, more important, for our students.

While appointing this position might be easier, that does not make it better. Electing our superintendent of public instruction creates an invaluable check on our governor and Legislature, provides a public voice in how over half of our state budget is expended, and provides vital consistency for our students. The superintendent should be the voters’ choice.•

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