Legislation gives governor unusual power over education

Making the case that Indiana’s governor should appoint the superintendent of public instruction, House Speaker Brian Bosma said the “vast majority” of states have moved away from electing state education officials. That’s not entirely accurate.

It’s true that Indiana is one of just a dozen states that let the voters choose their chief state school officer, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education. But seven states elect their state education boards, which typically appoint the state superintendent.

In fact, House Bill 1005 – approved by the legislature and sent to Gov. Eric Holcomb to be signed into law – would make Indiana one of only five states in which the governor has complete control of appointments of the state superintendent and members of the State Board of Education.

That’s a lot of authority to put in the hands of one person. And it’s a bit unusual in Indiana, where we insist on electing public officials all the way down to the township level.

Here’s the rundown on how state superintendents are chosen:

  • The State Board of Education appoints the superintendent in 22 states.
  • The governor makes the appointment in 11 states.
  • Twelve states elect their superintendent: eight in partisan elections and four in nonpartisan elections.
  • In five states, the governor appoints based on a recommendation from the state board.

The most common system mirrors the way governance works in local school districts, where an elected or appointed school board sets policy and hires a superintendent to administer the school system. State boards of education are typically appointed by governors, often with consent from the legislature.

Bosma noted that Indiana Republican and Democratic governors going back decades have wanted to appoint the state superintendent. Holcomb made the issue one of his legislative priorities. Even so, there was considerable opposition in the Senate. To get HB 1005 passed, House leaders had to agree to compromises, including a requirement that the appointed superintendent be an Indiana resident, hold an advanced degree and have five years of experience in education.

Most significantly, the bill delays the new system until 2025, giving Superintendent Jennifer McCormick a chance to serve two full terms if she is re-elected. That’s nearly eight years in which legislators could change their minds about the process – maybe several times.

4 thoughts on “Legislation gives governor unusual power over education

  1. Thank you for the comprehensive overview. I always have advocated for a an elected state board of education that appoints the Superintendent. However, it would be one more challenge to inform the public about those running for the state board. But since it reflects what we do on a locally, it should happen on a state basis as well.

  2. DC has the most interesting, and in my experience, the least democratic arrangement of all. Being a city, not a state, it has “mayoral control’ while it also has two “state-level” entities: the elected State Board of Education and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education appointed by the mayor. The Board has only the power to advise the OSSE, not to initiate or set policy while the OSSE is free to dismiss or override the Board’s advice which it has done using its so-called “regulatory authority.”
    What this tangle does is ensure that what ever the will of the people is on “state” policy, the Board cannot carry it out, making our vote for representatives on the Board worthless.
    It is bad enough that we don’t have voting representation in Congress, something that the local government did not put in place, but having the local government dishonor the entire concept of democracy by designing an elected body that has no power is, in many ways, far, far worse!

  3. Pingback: Quick takes on the 2017 legislative session | School Matters

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