Bill To Make State Superintendent A Political Appointment Revived

Mar 27, 2017

A Senate committee approved a controversial bill Monday that would change the Superintendent of Public Instruction from an elected position to an appointed one.

During this General Assembly, both the House and Senate sponsored bills to make the state’s education chief an appointed position. The House passed its version of the bill, but the Senate, in a surprise move the first half of session, voted theirs down.

It seemed the issue would die this year since Senate rules prevent a similar bill from being considered in the same session. But an amendment approved in the Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee Monday altered the House bill enough to revive it.

The bill passed the committee 8-4. It now heads to the full Senate.

The amended legislation calls for the governor to appoint the state superintendent in 2025 and requires the candidate be an Indiana resident for at least two years and earned an advanced degree. It also requires the office holder have experience in education, such as being a licensed “or otherwise employed” as a teacher, principal, or superintendent at the time of the appointment.

The original bill sought a 2021 start date and made no residency or experience requirements.

Committee Democrats argued the amendment did not change the substance of the bill enough to allow a vote based on Senate rules. But Sen. David Long (R-Fort Wayne), the committee chair, says statehouse lawyers agreed the bill was altered enough.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), the author of HB 1005, says the change would bring political balance and remove partisan politics from the position.

The issue has been debated for 45 years and advocated by every Republican and Democrat governor since 1984, he says.

But after Democrat Glenda Ritz’s 2012 surprise win over then-superintendent and Republican Tony Bennett, the issue became divisive mostly along party lines. Ritz’s quarrelsome relationships with the former Gov. Mike Pence and the Republican-appointed State Board of Education has been a reason some lawmakers and organizations support the legislation.

Speaking in opposition, Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) said, if the bill becomes laws, voters will be disenfranchised.

“What this issue comes down to is politics and muting outspoken Hoosiers that bring education policy to the forefront of our elections,” he said in a statement released after the vote. “Statehouse Republicans want to fulfill an agenda promise, and will go to any lengths to get it done.”

Indiana is only one of nine states that elect the state school chief on a partisan ballot. A majority of other states appoint the position.

The State Superintendent of Public Instruction oversees the implementation of policies and procedures established by the State Board of Education.