Indiana Republicans are pulling out all the stops to make sure the state schools chief would be appointed, not elected, in the future.
The Senate Rules Committee passed and amended a bill on Monday that would change how the state’s top education official is selected, giving new life to a measure that GOP leaders say has been debated in Indiana for 45 years — and is one of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s 2017 legislative priorities.
“It’s been advocated by every governor since 1985,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, the bill’s author. “It’s been advocated by both parties, in fact.”
Supporters of the measure say it’s finally time to align efforts between the state’s top executive and education official, reducing the possibility for political squabbles that have marred previous administrations. Opponents argue the change disenfranchises voters, taking away their chance to have a voice in the direction of the state’s education policy.
The amended House Bill 1005 includes two major changes from an earlier version debated last month. It would allow the governor to appoint a “secretary of education” beginning in 2025, a change from the originally proposed 2021 start date.
That seemingly small change could be a point of contention as the bill moves forward. With the 2021 start date, Holcomb, a Republican, would make the appointment if elected to a second term. Pushing it four years farther puts the first appointment out of Holcomb’s — and potentially GOP — control.
Additionally, a 2025 start date would allow current state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, also a Republican, to run for a second term in 2020 before a possible replacement would be appointed.
The new bill also introduces qualifications for the position. In addition to living in Indiana for at least two years prior to an appointment, the secretary of education candidate would also be required to:
- Demonstrate “personal and professional leadership success, preferably in the administration of public education.”
- Have an advanced degree, preferably in education or educational administration.
- Hold, or have previously held, a license to be a teacher, principal of superintendent, or otherwise be employed as such for at least five years before taking office.
- Have five years of working experience as an executive in the education field.
Senate President David Long, chairman of the committee, said these changes to the bill make it “substantially” different from Senate Bill 179, a similar proposal that was defeated by the Senate 26-23 last month. According to Senate rules, another bill with the same language could not be considered unless significant changes were made.
Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said he believed the Senate violated its own rules by even having a hearing on the House bill. Senate rules state that if a bill has had a majority of senators vote against it, it is “decisively defeated,” and similar language cannot be considered again that year.
“It does not say it shall not be voted on, it says it shall not be considered,” Lanane said. “It pays respect to the idea in the Indiana Senate that we don’t do do-overs.”
But Republicans on the committee disagreed, and said their amendment means the bill can proceed.
Now, a few concerns remain as the bill heads to the full Senate.
First, Indiana’s constitution says that there “shall be a State Superintendent of Public Instruction,” not a secretary of education. Bosma said he doesn’t think that’s a problem because the bill’s language allows for the change.
And second, if the Senate passes the bill, it heads to conference committee, where lawmakers come together to try to reconcile differences over bills. Democrats on the rules committee said they were worried that parts of the original bill — no specific qualifications for candidates, a 2021 start date — might resurface at that point.
Long reassured the committee that only minor changes could be made. But Bosma was less decisive on that point, which might indicate that the closed-door dealings on this bill could be particularly contentious.
Bosma has said all along that he’s waited years for this proposal to become a reality, and he sees no point in waiting any longer.
“Maybe we should wait another 40 years from when this was first proposed,” he joked. “The time is right.”