Appointed superintendent push is about politics

Indiana Republicans are determined to change state law so the governor can appoint the superintendent of public instruction. OK, but stop pretending this is about principle.

There’s some validity to the idea that the governor and superintendent should be on the same page regarding education policy. Governors from both parties, including current Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, have made that argument.

But advocates like House Speaker Brian Bosma are blowing smoke when they claim they just want to put the superintendent position and the Indiana Department of Education above politics. It could have the opposite effect.

You could say that Indiana went down this road before. In 2008, the popular and scrupulously nonpartisan superintendent Suellen Reed had served four terms and could have run again. But Gov. Mitch Daniels recruited a southern Indiana school administrator named Tony Bennett to replace her on the Republican ticket.

Bennett won and proceeded to implement an agenda of promoting charter schools and vouchers and weakening teachers’ unions. He was combative and intensely partisan. Hand-picked by the governor, he politicized an office that had avoided partisanship.

The truth is, Indiana voters have done a pretty good job of keeping politics out of the state superintendent position, no thanks to the politicians.

When Reed was first elected, voters chose her over a candidate endorsed by popular Democratic Gov. Evan Bayh but who was viewed as too political. When Democrat Glenda Ritz upset Bennett in 2012, voters were rejecting Bennett’s brand of politics.

Last year, voters turned out Ritz and elected Jennifer McCormick, a local superintendent who pledged to depoliticize the Department of Education. So far, McCormick has done an admirable job of avoiding partisanship and advocating for students, teachers and schools.

Would Holcomb or any other governor appoint McCormick or someone like her to be state superintendent? Or would they look for someone more political?

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