By Ben Brown
The position of state superintendent of public instruction – currently held by Democrat Glenda Ritz – could become an appointed position instead of an elected one if proposed legislation is made law.
Senate Bill 24, authored by Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, would allow the governor to appoint the state superintendent beginning in 2021.
“The appointment of the superintendent is not a new subject. That’s been around for a good number of years – long before I ever got in the legislature,” Buck said. “Democrats have proposed it in the past. Republicans have proposed it in the past.”
Buck said he set the bill to become effective in 2021 because implementing it in 2016 would give the impression that it was an issue related to Ritz.
“I spoke to her today about that bill,” Buck said. “I felt like that was something necessary so she could understand my reasoning.”
The idea behind this, Buck said, is that Ritz may or may not win reelection and she also may not want to run again by 2020.
“At the end of 2020 there will be a new governor no matter what happens in 2016, so it will give that governor the opportunity to pick his or her superintendent,” Buck said.
But Ritz’s press secretary, Daniel Altman, said the superintendent opposes the bill.
“She believes that voters should not have their voice taken from them, particularly on an issue as vital as education, where the state spends over half of its money,” Altman said.
Ritz has been battling with the governor and the State Board of Education he appoints since she was elected two years ago. The elected superintendent serves as chair of the Board of Education, but the Pence administration has sought to strip her of some power and is now advocating that the chair be chosen by the group’s members.
Buck wants to go further. He said that governors in most states appoint education leaders. And even the president of the United States appoints an education secretary.
“I know the superintendent has her views and that is all well and good but the reality of it is the governor is the one who ends up with the full responsibility of the results of education in the state of Indiana,” Buck said.
Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, the ranking minority member of the Education and Career Development Committee, said she disagrees with the proposed legislation.
“My initial opinion would be that we need to keep it the way it is now, that the superintendent of public instruction should remain in the hands of the voters of Indiana,” Rogers said.
Buck said he believes the bill will be well received because similar proposals have been offered in the past by officials from both parties.
Rogers, however, said it should stay the same because the electoral process allows voters to have a voice in the education decisions made in the state.
“I do think the voters would be concerned about such a move by the legislature because the last election showed that there could be a strong support for either party’s nominee,” Rogers said. “I have always said that politics should not be a part of any decision we make in education and this would clearly be a political move.”
Ben Brown is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.