The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, October 02, 2018 1:00 am

Indiana's school chief won't seek re-election

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The power struggle on Indiana education issues has claimed another one – Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick announced Monday she would not seek a second term in 2020.

She has at times butted heads with the GOP-dominated State Board of Education – similar to her Democratic predecessor, Glenda Ritz.

Ritz at one point sued the board and flirted with a run for governor because she was so frustrated.

But McCormick defeated Ritz in 2016, and Monday blamed the complicated and often tension-filled governance structure for not running for re-election.

“We've done some great work. When I got into this office my charge was 'I want to do what's best for kids.' I think back, and I was so cute. I was so naive,” McCormick said. “Now that I've learned the governance structure, things are very complicated in Indiana.”

McCormick runs the Indiana Department of Education and implements education policy. But she has little, if any, control over it.

The news came in the middle of her outlining her legislative agenda for next year. She said the governance structure in Indiana is not healthy – often involving mixed messages – and makes it hard to focus on helping kids.

Lawmakers have given the State Board of Education more power in recent years, slowly assigning more topics and programs to the board rather than the department. It started when Ritz was in office but has continued even with a Republican superintendent.

In 2017, lawmakers at the urging of Gov. Eric Holcomb decided to move the superintendent post from elected to appointed starting in 2025. McCormick said some legislators continued talking behind the scenes about moving that up to 2021, and the discussion is causing concern among educators and distracting her from helping students.

“As a parent, I would not be happy if my state superintendent ... were spending time on noise and that's simply what this has become,” she said. “For that conversation to keep coming up and suck all of our energies out, to me I'm growing very weary of that, so the best way I can help shut that down is to let people know I'm not running again.”

McCormick also said repeatedly that citizens should have a voice in education. The State Board of Education is also appointed.

She didn't tell Holcomb in advance of her decision – “I don't owe anyone but kids.” 

Holcomb released a statement saying he spoke with the superintendent Monday afternoon and “reminded her that we have more time left in this term than we've been here, and there's still plenty to be accomplished.” 

He said he appreciates her lifetime devotion to children and education and “we'll take the steps necessary to ensure Indiana has the best team working together to provide the highest quality education for children.” 

Andrew Downs, who runs the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue Fort Wayne, said McCormick made it much easier to make the position appointed sooner by ensuring there will be no incumbent to work around. 

He said governors going back as far as Frank O'Bannon have moved to take more control of education. 

“Education has been the target of so much attention by the legislature that it is not surprising that superintendents feel the General Assembly and the governor have been too involved,” Downs said. “I don't see them telling the attorney general or state auditor how to do their job.” 

He added that McCormick is a popular superintendent and some legislators might conclude there has been too much micromanagement –but not enough to reverse the move to an appointed post. 

Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith said she appreciates McCormick's strong agenda for public schools. 

“We are disappointed to hear of Superintendent McCormick's decision to not seek re-election. She has been a strong advocate for public schools and her voice will be missed at the Statehouse,” she said.

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