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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, April 21, 2019 1:00 am

Editorial

Schools chief sounds alarm on public's loss of control

The state's last elected superintendent of public instruction is not leaving office quietly. With just more than 20 months left in her four-year term, Jennifer McCormick is on a mission to warn Indiana voters of the immense power over education legislators just handed off to the governor's office.

In a presentation to more than 100 parents and educators at Ivy Tech Community College's Coliseum campus Thursday, the schools chief described the state's current system of school governance, what it will become in 2021 and why Hoosiers should begin paying closer attention. 

“What we're going to have is not the norm,” McCormick said, describing oversight of preschool education through higher education. “In most states, somewhere in here, beyond the governor's office – is your voice. In most states, it's either the state board (of education) is elected, or the state superintendent goes through confirmation by those who are elected, maybe in the state senate. Indiana will be very, very, very top-heavy in one office, with a lot of control.”

McCormick, a Republican, spent more than an hour highlighting policy differences between the Department of Education she now oversees and the governor's office and like-minded education leaders in the General Assembly, beginning with views on school finance.

“I know it's not all about the money, but it's hard to operate school systems without adequate and equitable resources,” she said, citing numerous examples of funding proposals that shortchange public schools and a growing system of “haves and have-nots.”

“We're being told (science, technology, engineering and math education) is going to keep our state alive,” McCormick said. “So when we went to ask for STEM money – silly me – 'we've got a STEM plan, we've got a STEM council' – we need $20 million to minimally execute it. Your governor came out and your General Assembly and they are giving it $1 million; $2 million over the biennium.

“So let me get this straight – you're telling me how important STEM is to our state, and we're giving less than $1 per student per year?”

She also pointed out the disconnect between different leaders' objectives. Gov. Mitch Daniel pushed to get every Indiana student prepared for a four-year college track, she said. Now, under the Holcomb administration, the push is for workforce certifications and two-year college programs. 

“I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but we need to start saying our customer is not the workforce,” McCormick said to loud applause. “Our customer in K-12 is the child. You have to consider their ability, their passion.”

Some students will excel in career and technical programs, but not all students can be pushed in that direction, she said. Others will flourish in four-year college programs.

“We can't do this one thing or the other thing,” said the former YorktownCommunity Schools superintendent.“We've got to find this balance and keep our eyes on the prize. Our customer is that kid.”

The resistance McCormick's student-centered approach has faced from a governor and legislative supermajority of her own party are a telling sign of political forces not focused on students and public education. Her message to Hoosiers who care about both should not be dismissed. And candidates for state office next year must share a clear and complete vision for Indiana schools.