Bill allowing governor to choose state schools chief heads to Holcomb’s desk

The Indiana House on Tuesday afternoon concurred with the Senate’s changes to a bill that would convert the state superintendent of public instruction position from an elected role to an appointed one starting in 2025, sending the legislation to Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The House earlier in the legislative session passed a less stringent version of the bill that would have implemented the change in 2021. Indiana is one of only 13 states to elect the leader of the state Department of Education.

But the Senate tightened it, delaying the implementation by four years, adding in the requirement that the governor appoint someone who has lived in the state for at least two years. The bill also requires the appointed person to have some education chops, mainly the possession, for at least a time, of a teaching, principal's or superintendent’s license.

“The bill did receive some surgical attention in the Senate,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said. “Honestly, [the changes] weren’t my first preference, but I understand the desire to include them. The Senate is not as comfortable with change, especially significant change. I think they like the long road to get where we all think we ought to be be."

Bosma said current state schools chief Jennifer McCormick was more supportive of the Senate’s version of the bill and not making the change until a new governor takes over. Holcomb, even if he's re-elected, can only serve until 2025 because state law limits governors to two consecutive terms.

McCormick said she would want the ability to recruit a strong staff, which would be hamstrung if she was appointed in 2021 because staff candidates would know they would be limited to one term in office.

Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, said he didn’t believe the changes the Senate made were “ideal, but I do think it’s part of the legislative process to work and compromise and find something we can all move forward on.”

But the changes caused Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, an author on the bill, to pull his support. It still received broad Republican approval. Tuesday’s vote to concur on the Senate changes was 66-31.

“If we need to have an appointed superintendent, than we need it now, not eight years from now,” Delaney said. He also said requiring certain qualifications for the position amounts to "tying the hands of the governor eight years in the future."

Democrats spoke against moving the position to an appointed one. They were joined in voting against the bill by a few Republicans. The bill is also opposed by former state schools chief Glenda Ritz.

Rep. Melanie Wright, D-Yorktown, said she believes that it “moves educators further away from the decision-making.”

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said it was a “flawed concept” and not responsive to “the will of the people.”

Holcomb, who has previously expressed support to move the position from elected to appointed, can sign the bill into law, let it pass into law without his signature or veto it.

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