INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana legislators sent Gov. Eric Holcomb a measure Tuesday that would eventually give the governor authority to appoint the state schools superintendent, a post that has been elected by voters for more than 150 years.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, an Indianapolis Republican who sponsored the bill, said keeping the head of the Department of Education off the ballot will absolve the position from partisan politics. Holcomb backs the measure and is expected to sign it.
“Kudos to lawmakers for fixing a decades-old problem (and) putting students (first),” Holcomb tweeted Tuesday.
This session’s push to make the position an appointed one follows four years of conflict between Democratic former Indiana schools chief Glenda Ritz and the state’s Republican leaders, including lawmakers and then-Gov. Mike Pence. There were frequent clashes over Republican-backed policies, such as using public funds to send students to private school through the state’s voucher system.
Ritz’s own tenure as schools’ chief was brought about by backlash to education changes under then-Superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican.
While the change from an elected to an appointed superintendent was part of Holcomb’s agenda for the session, its success was far from certain in February when the Senate voted down their version of the proposal. That vote, per a Senate rule, meant the chamber was unable to consider another bill with substantially similar language again in the session.
GOP Senate leader David Long ultimately ruled, amid protests from Democratic lawmakers, that changes adopted in his rules committee rendered the measure different enough to allow the Senate to take it up again. Those changes push back the date the law would go into effect from 2021 to 2025 and add residency and qualification requirements for the appointed superintendent.
The House approved the modifications on a 66-31 vote Tuesday, despite Bosma’s desire to keep the language “as flexible as possible” for future executives.
Republican supermajorities in both chambers rebuffed calls from Democrats to send the issue to a ballot referendum to allow voters to decide.
Shifting nomination from voters to the governor, critics say, means education would become one of many topics discussed in a gubernatorial election, instead of a separate discussion surrounding voters’ selection of an independent schools chief.
Bosma resists that characterization, arguing that the move will ensure the schools chief and governor work together with a unified vision.
“Our students, parents and educators deserve consistency and better coordination in the administration of education policy,” he wrote in a statement, “and this action marks a giant step forward.”
Find House Bill 1005 online at https://iga.in.gov/