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Indiana Senate to once again vote on schools superintendent bill

March 27, 2017

The Indiana Senate is set to consider a bill that makes the state superintendent of public instruction an official appointed by the governor instead of elected by voters—despite voting against a similar bill earlier this session.

The Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure committee voted 8-4 along party lines Mondaymorning to send an amended version of House Bill 1005 to the full Senate floor. The Senate in late February narrowly defeated Senate Bill 179, a similar bill from Sen. James Buck, R-Kokomo, by a 26-23 vote.

Typically, Senate rules would prohibit the Senate from taking up the matter again during the same Legislative session. But Senate leadership decided changes to the House bill made it substantially different enough to proceed.

The amended bill would allow the governor to begin appointing the position of “secretary of education” in 2025 instead of 2021 as passed by the House and originally defeated in the Senate.

It also added a two-year Indiana residency requiremen and qualification requirements, including that the person must have at one point been a teacher, principal or superintendent (or held those licenses) for five years.

The issue has been long debated in the Legislature, and this year House Speaker Brian Bosma and Gov. Eric Holcomb are supporting the idea of making the superintendent an elected position.

However, the amended Senate bill would put the issue out of reach for Holcomb to make any substantial changes to the office during his two-term limited position. And it would allow current state schools chief Jennifer McCormick, a Republican, to seek a second term.

The move follows a previously contentious four years between Gov. Mike Pence and Democratic superintendent Glenda Ritz, who were frequently at odds over education policy.

“I believe this is the right time to take the Department of Education and position of superintendent out of partisan politics,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma.

For decades, both Republicans and Democrats have undertaken efforts to change state law so that the superintendent would be selected by appointment, lawmakers say. But each time those efforts have been defeated.

Opponents say the proposal isn't democratic because it takes choice away from voters. Proponents say Indiana is one of only 13 states to elect the leader of the state Department of Education.

To opponents’ claims that the move would limit voters' ability to affect education policy changes in the state, Bosma said, “I think we’re continuing the misconception that the elected superintendent has control of policy in the state of Indiana.

“This is not a proper office for a check and balance on school policy,” Bosma said, pointing out that the office is primarily tasked with implementing education policy as decided upon by the State Board of Education and providing technical support to schools.

But Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, said “most people don’t want us to take away their right to vote on this office.”

Though the vote to advance the bill was along party lines, Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said he would vote no on the full Senate floor.

It is unclear whether the bill is substantially different enough to gain enough support in the Senate, as 17 Republicans voted against the original bill in February.

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