Try 3 months for $3
Lawmakers speeding switch to appointed state schools chief despite lingering questions

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, standing right, speaks to the Senate Education Committee March 6 about his proposal to replace the elected state superintendent of public instruction with a governor-appointed secretary of education starting in 2021, instead of 2025.

INDIANAPOLIS — There is no clear understanding of how Indiana's education bureaucracy will operate when a governor-appointed secretary of education takes the place of the voter-elected state superintendent of public instruction.

But that's not deterring Hoosier lawmakers from seeking to speed up the transition.

The Senate Education Committee on Wednesday is expected to approve House Bill 1005, giving the governor control of the Indiana Department of Education starting in 2021, instead of 2025 under existing law.

Last week, the committee learned that so far it appears the new education secretary will continue leading a separate education agency from the mostly governor-appointed State Board of Education, which has a similar staff of education policy and legal experts.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly shifted considerable authority from DOE to the state School Board between 2013 and 2016 when a Democrat elected by Hoosiers served as state superintendent of public instruction.

They've not returned that power to DOE, even after Republican Jennifer McCormick took over as state schools chief in 2017, setting up the possibility that Indiana will continue having duplicate education agencies, all under the governor's supervision, following the switch to an appointed secretary of education.

Committee members also expressed concern that the education secretary would be nothing more than a puppet for the state's chief executive, rather than feeling safe to provide his or her independent assessment of Indiana's educational needs.

"I think that people should be prepared for certainly a difference in the way the Department of Education is potentially administered," said state Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg. "It will be really more administered from the governor's office."

State Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, said that's unfortunate because in recent years the state superintendent has been a rare defender of public education amid GOP efforts to expand the availability of charter schools and private school vouchers at the expense of public schools.

"It seems to me that the superintendents that are being elected have a different view, a different goal, based on their own experience within the system," Stoops said. "This may not be an appropriate step for Indiana."

In addition, lawmakers have yet to address the state superintendent's position in the gubernatorial order of succession outlined in the Indiana Constitution.

The state superintendent becomes acting governor should the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker, Senate president, state treasurer, state auditor and secretary of state be unavailable to serve as Indiana's chief executive.

Replacing the superintendent with a secretary of education, who by law would take on the superintendent's constitutional responsibilities, potentially could make an appointed officeholder the state's governor, instead of a person elected by Hoosier voters.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, the sponsor of the legislation, insisted that lawmakers already considered and set those concerns aside two years ago when they authorized replacing the elected state superintendent with an appointed education secretary.

"It is policy today," Bosma said. "It's just a question of when the policy will take effect, in 2021 or 2025."

He said 2021 is more appropriate because McCormick last year announced she would not seek re-election in 2020, and it doesn't make sense to elect a new superintendent who would be a lame duck on his or her first day in office.

In contrast, Bosma said having an appointed education secretary would be "an opportunity to attract some talent that might not want to make the sacrifice to run for statewide elected office for relatively low salary."

State records show that McCormick earns wages of $101,227 a year. The secretary of education's salary would be set by the governor.

0
0
0
0
0

Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.