Treat Jennifer McCormick with all the respect due the last of a kind. If she is re-elected in 2020 — and she very probably will be — she will be the last Indiana superintendent of public instruction selected by voters. On Jan. 10, 2025, under legislation signed this year by Gov. Eric Holcomb, the state's first-ever appointed education superintendent will take office.
For such a big deal — the proposed change has been a hot topic of controversy since the early 1970s — the legislation passed this past session with very little fanfare. Since we have always been a strong advocate for a governor-appointed superintendent, it's appropriate for us to mark the change with a warning of a possible pitfall: A lot of people will now have to pay more attention to education than they have in the past. If they don't, our children could suffer.
Every single governor since the '70s has advocated for the appointed position — four Republicans and three Democrats — and it has been favored at times by both political parties. Of course, they tend to be more supportive of the idea when they are in power, but it's always in the back of their minds that come next election, the governor of the other party might be the one making the appointment. That's one reason the elective position has survived so long.
Another one — perhaps the main one — is that keeping the position elective is thought to give the voting citizens of the state a voice in education policy. Other states have gradually come to believe that the disadvantages of the elective system outweigh that advantage — Indiana is one of just 13 states not appointing the superintendent.
Now we've seen the light, too, mostly because of the four-year running feud between Republican Gov. Mike Pence and Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz, which resulted in an incoherent education policy and one false start after another.
The good news is that starting in 2025, the governor and superintendent will be on the same page. That's also the bad news. Since there will be no longer be an official independent education voice in Indiana, the governor must make his education policies crystal clear. And it's incumbent upon all of us to make pay attention to the quality of the governor's ideas. When we vote for governor, we will also be voting for education policy, and we can't allow ourselves to forget it.