NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL Superintendent of schools should be appointed

Whenever we have discussions about education in Indiana, it’s easy to take sides because of whatever it is that we most firmly believe in for the betterment of our children as well as our teachers.

Governors and legislators can’t please everyone in the direction they may take regarding our state’s schools. Nor can state superintendents of public instruction.

Many weren’t happy when Glenda Ritz was in that position a few years back. A Democrat, she and the Republican governor at that time, Mike Pence, were often at odds. That political divide was a product of the election process. Then Republicans chose Jennifer McCormick to run against Ritz in the 2016 election, and she scored a stunning victory.

The political differences with the governor and Legislature should have eased, you would think. But McCormick had a mind of her own, and it didn’t necessarily jibe with that of Gov. Eric Holcomb, who replaced Pence in the 2016 gubernatorial election as he became Donald Trump’s vice-presidential running mate.

In 2017, because of the contention between Ritz and Pence, state leaders voted to make the state schools chief an appointed position in 2025. But when McCormick announced in October that she would not seek a second term, lawmakers opted to move that date up to 2021, when her four-year term ends. Holcomb signed House Bill 1005 earlier this month, which accelerates the elimination of the elected superintendent of public instruction in favor of a secretary of education, to be appointed by the governor.

The state’s last elected superintendent of public instruction visited Fort Wayne last week in one of several speaking engagements throughout Indiana. The next event on her statewide tour will be in Greencastle on May 7.

McCormick spoke at Ivy Tech on Thursday about proposals in the works at the Statehouse, including K-12 funding, graduation requirements, school safety and teacher salaries. The former superintendent of Yorktown Schools also talked about differences in policy between her and the governor’s office and Republican leaders in the State Legislature.

We wrote in an editorial in October, when McCormick made the stunning announcement she would not seek a second term, that some of her policy views had proved to be more like her predecessor’s than of the champions of school choice who supported her. While she campaigned along party lines, she and her fellow Republicans went on to clash on issues such as early education, how the state rates schools and private school vouchers.

We pointed out at that time that McCormick had repeatedly called for the state to heavily regulate private and charter schools that take vouchers. She said any school that takes public money should be an inclusive place for LGBT students and staff, comments that were likely directed at Indianapolis Roncalli High School that has received more than $6.5 million in public money in the past five years, thanks to the voucher program.

Roncalli is a Catholic school that has been criticized for placing a guidance counselor on administrative leave due to her same-sex marriage. Our view was that private schools must not be forced to go against their core beliefs in hiring staff members.

McCormick’s unilateral approach to such issues is why we felt that the change to an appointed superintendent would be more in keeping with the ideals and values of the governor and Legislature elected by the constituents they serve.

Her comments during last week’s visit here seem to support that viewpoint.