Candidates for Indiana governor in 2020 should put their education cards on the table when they start campaigning. That means they should announce whom they will appoint as secretary of education.
At the latest, they should do this by the time of the Republican and Democratic state conventions in June 2020. That’s when candidates for the chief state education officer would have been nominated in the past. Better yet, they should announce their choice during the campaign for the May 2020 primaries.
For most of Indiana’s history, the state superintendent of public instruction has been chosen by the voters. But this year, legislators voted to make the position one that’s appointed by the governor. They also changed its name to secretary of education.
Their rationale was that the governor and secretary should be on the same page when it comes to K-12 schools. But the change will give Indiana’s governor unusual control over the making and implementing of education policy. The governor will be one of no more than five in the U.S. with complete authority to pick the chief education officer and members of the State Board of Education.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick is now the last person to be elected to the position. In a newspaper guest column, she pointed to potential problems with making the position appointed.
“While politics has always played a part in the education discussion,” she wrote, “with this change, the risk of it now consisting of more noise than substance is heightened.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb is almost certain to be the Republican candidate, assuming he seeks re-election. He pushed for the power to appoint the secretary of education but hasn’t tipped his hand on how he would use it. Would he push the Indiana Department of Education in the direction of favoring charter schools and vouchers? Or would his secretary, like McCormick, support public schools?
I’ve heard speculation that Holcomb might pick Lee Ann Kwiatkowski or Byron Ernest for the job. Kwiatkowski is Holcomb’s chief education aide and a former Department of Education official and public school administrator. Ernest spent three years as head of schools at Hoosier Academies, which shut down their virtual school in 2018 after it received six straight Fs from the state. Before that, he was principal of an Indianapolis “turnaround” high school run by a for-profit Florida charter-school company.
Those are very different prospective appointees. Voters will deserve to know which it will be – or if it will be someone else.
The Democratic nomination for governor is still wide open. Former state health commissioner Woody Myers, state Rep. Karlee Macer and state Sen. Eddie Melton are reported to be considering a run.
Democratic candidates for president are trying to distinguish themselves with strong positions in support of public education, and Democratic candidates for Indiana governor should do the same. Picking an experienced educator for secretary of education – and doing it soon – would be a good start.