By The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — The current state schools superintendent would be the last one selected by voters under a bill approved Thursday by the Indiana House.
House members voted 70-29 largely along party lines in favor of changing the superintendent position to one appointed by the governor effective in 2021. The bill moves up the change by four years as the Republican-dominated Legislature passed a law in 2017 making it an appointed position starting in 2025 after numerous policy disagreements with former Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz.
Supporters say moving up the appointment date makes sense since current Republican Superintendent Jennifer McCormick announced in October that she wouldn't seek re-election in 2020, citing conflicts with the state's education governance system.
Opponents argued the move concentrates power with the governor at the expense of voters.
Democratic Rep. Matt Pierce of Bloomington said the change will also lead to less diversity of views on education policy. Pierce said appointing the schools superintendent was discussed for many years but didn't gain momentum among lawmakers until Ritz defeated Republican Superintendent Tony Bennett in the 2012 election with the help of teachers who opposed changes he pushed, including measures tying teacher pay to student performance, a school takeover plan and the state' private school voucher program.
"Instead of this General Assembly hearing the people and getting the message, the response was not to change course but the response was to double down and take as much power away from that superintendent of public instruction as possible," Pierce said.
McCormick defeated Ritz in the 2016 election, but has disagreed with Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders on issues including her support for increased scrutiny of charter and voucher schools that receive state money.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, who sponsored the bill, said the appointment change will allow better coordination between the governor and the state's Department of Education. He pointed out that previous Democratic governors had supported appointing the schools superintendent, which has been an elected position since the 1850s.
"This concept that this is about smacking somebody on the way out the door is absolutely, absolutely fiction," Bosma said. "This is about aligning education policy with how it really is."
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.