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Senate Rejects Proposal to Let Governors Appoint State School Superintendent

But House approval of idea leaves bill barely alive for second try later in session

Senators have rejected an attempt to make the state school superintendent an appointed position.

Both parties have endorsed an appointed superintendent in the past, including the last six governors. Governor Eric Holcomb made it one of legislative priorities this year, and the four-year turf war between Holcomb's predecessor Mike Pence and former Democratic superintendent Glenda Ritz helped get the idea to the Senate floor for the first time in three decades. But the result of the vote was similar to the last try, in the 1980s: senators rejected the idea, 26-23.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long argues the Pence-Ritz feud demonstrated the importance of enabling a governor to set his own education policy, just as he does at other state agencies. But 17 Republicans joined all Senate Democrats to defeat the bill. Noblesville Republican Luke Kenley says electing the superintendent gives voters a direct say in education policy, and prevents the governor from exercising unlimited authority.

Most states allow either the governor or the state board of education to appoint the superintendent. But Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) says those leaders typically serve less than the four years Hoosier voters give Indiana superintendents. He says that creates instability.

Portage Democrat Karen Tallian says she would have considered supporting the bill if it had included a requirement that the superintendent be an Indiana resident. Republicans rejected an amendment Tallian authored which would have required the superintendent to be not only a resident but have school experience.

Later in the afternoon, the House approved a similar bill 68-29, with three Democrats joining all but four Republicans in voting yes. That potentially gives supporters a chance to revive the proposal next month when House bills move to the Senate, or at the end of the session in the rush to agree on final versions of legislation. It's possible a Senate rule may prohibit a second attempt. Even if it's allowed, supporters would need to persuade at least one Senate opponent to switch sides.

Republican superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who unseated Ritz in November, didn't take a public position on the bill.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)

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