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The Journal Gazette

  • File State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick leads a discussion at Homestead High School in 2017. McCormick will be Indiana's last elected state superintendent.

Saturday, April 06, 2019 1:00 am

Furthermore ...

Hoosiers lose direct say over state school chief

House Bill 1005 was signed by the Indiana Senate president pro tem on April Fool's Day and quickly moved to Gov. Eric Holcomb's desk. With his signature Wednesday, the governor claimed appointment authority for the state superintendent of public instruction. 

Holcomb scores a victory for his Next Level Agenda, which called for removing the post from statewide ballots. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick cleared the way to move up the 2025 appointment date when she announced last October that she would not seek reelection. But she also suggested there were behind-the-scenes efforts to do so regardless of her plans.

Bloomington journalist Steve Hinnefeld, who writes the School Matters blog, wondered who was behind those efforts, so he filed a public records request with Holcomb's office. Legislators' emails are off-limits, of course: They voted to exempt themselves from the open records law.

“The governor's office provided only one email,” Hinnefeld wrote. “A May 2018 message from Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, citing a newsletter from the right-of-center Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The chief of staff of the State Board of Education forwarded it with a note that an article in the newsletter 'exhibits why it is so important for the Governor to have the ability to appoint the (superintendent of public instruction).' ”

This was five months before McCormick announced she wouldn't run again.

“There were other records that met the description of what I was asking for, the governor's office said,” Hinnefeld wrote. “But it chose to keep them secret because they were 'advisory or deliberative material,' – one of the exceptions from disclosure under Indiana's Access to Public Records.”

In a news release after HB 1005 was approved by lawmakers, McCormick pointed out that the governor's race in 2020 “will deserve greater attention as our students' futures are dependent upon it. Education impacts all of us. Our children, educators, and school communities deserve a strong, representative voice.”