Bill gives governor unusual power over schools

Legislators are fast-tracking a bill to give Indiana’s governor unusual power over education. If House Bill 1005 becomes law, the governor will soon be one of only five in the United States with total control over who serves as chief state school officer and on the state board of education.

The legislation would move up the effective date for having the governor appoint the chief state school officer. Current law gives the governor the appointment in January 2025; the bill moves the date to 2021.

The measure also changes the name Indiana’s chief state school officer from superintendent of public instruction to secretary of education. It was approved last week by the House and sent on to the Senate.

Historically, Indiana’s state superintendent has been elected by popular vote. Legislators decided last year to shift to an appointed superintendent but postponed the effective date to give the current superintendent, Jennifer McCormick, a chance to serve two terms. But McCormick announced in October that she wouldn’t seek re-election, giving lawmakers an opening to make the change sooner.

Supporters of the bill, including the legislature’s Republican leaders, argue that it makes sense for the governor and superintendent to be aligned on education issues. Democrats have made similar arguments in calling for an appointed superintendent when they controlled the governor’s office.

Supporters also claim Indiana is an outlier in electing its state superintendent. It’s not. Thirteen states choose their chief state school officer by either partisan or nonpartisan ballot, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education.

With HB 1005, Indiana would become one of 15 states where the governor appoints the chief state school officer. The most common procedure – used in 21 states — is for the state board of education to appoint the chief state school officer.

Indiana’s governor appoints members of the state board of education; so, with approval of the bill, the governor will control both the setting and administering of education policy.

In states where the governor appoints the chief state school officer, the governor has total power to appoint state board members in only Iowa, Maine, New Jersey and Virginia. In other states, board members are elected; or they are chosen by the governor but confirmed by the legislature.

The House approved the measure Thursday by a vote of 70-29, with most of the yes votes coming from Republicans and most of the no votes from Democrats. It rejected a Democratic-sponsored amendment to require the secretary of education to have experience in education.

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