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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, May 12, 2019 1:00 am

Education policy facing a dramatic shift come 2020

Without an elected superintendent, public's voice is greatly diminished

Jennifer McCormick

As the 44th state superintendent of public instruction, and one of only three women elected to the position since 1852, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve.

Indiana is home to more than 1.2 million students, more than 75,000 educators and 2,194 schools. Beginning January 2021, as a result of House Enrolled Act 1005, Indiana will no longer elect the state superintendent; the position will become a governor-appointed secretary of education.

Our state will be one of only three where the top state education official and the majority of State Board of Education members are appointed solely by the governor. This consolidation of K-12 power and influence deserves public attention and awareness. It also deserves consideration of the lack of a balanced approach affecting an area responsible for more than half of the state's budget.

Through proposing and passing this change in Indiana's education governance structure, lawmakers have curtailed the voices of Hoosier voters as they relate to local desires. House Enrolled Act 1005 sets forth the job description for the secretary of education, requiring no confirmation proceedings, further empowering the governor as the exclusive architect of Indiana's K-12 education design.

Interesting to note, the new position does not require, but uses the term “preferably,” in detailing the desire for the candidate to have experience within the educational field. Having successfully served in the role, I can share without question, having K-12 educational leadership experience is critical for the advocacy of students, efficiency of strategic operations, and effective support and guidance to schools.

While politics has always played a part in the education discussion, with this change, the risk of it now consisting of more noise than substance is heightened. Balanced and meaningful debate is a healthy approach to K-12 education policy. Indiana must demand elected officials who have the courage to welcome and embrace such an approach.

Students cannot afford a subservient secretary of education. House Enrolled Act 1005 had the opportunity to establish a more balanced approach. Yet, it missed the mark.

Now more than ever, Hoosiers must hold all of Indiana's elected leaders accountable. From the rhetoric of the campaign trail to the actions in governing, officials must be honest and transparent regarding their position surrounding K-12 policy. Stakeholders must be bold, direct, and persistent in our questioning and expectations for accountability.

The 2020 gubernatorial race bears more weight in this new governance structure. Important decisions lie ahead for our state, and most importantly, our students. Education affects all of us. Our children, families, educators, communities and businesses deserve a strong, representative voice.

It is time to refocus our attention beyond political posturing and stand tall for our children. 

Jennifer McCormick is the Indiana state superintendent of Public Instruction.