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Why Indiana's education leader doesn’t have to be a teacher, according to Brian Bosma

Posted at 4:32 PM, Jan 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-18 16:37:35-05

INDIANAPOLIS — In 2025, or maybe even earlier, the Indiana superintendent of public instruction will move from an elected position to one appointed by the governor. But is it OK if that person has never been a teacher?

The current officeholder is Dr. Jennifer McCormick, whose term will run out in 2020. In October, McCormick announced she will not run for re-election. Because of her decision, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, introduced a bill that would change when the position would move from an elected one to an appointed one. His bill would move the date up by four years, to 2021.

The superintendent of public instruction is in charge of the state’s public school system, but doesn’t have to be a former teacher, principal, or administrator in a school. That’s something that the Indiana Coalition for Public Education doesn’t like. The law does say it’s preferred, but not required, for the person to have worked in public education.

“None of these requirements, to the extent that they are requirements, would require a secretary of education to have any prior experience in K-12 public education,” Joel Hand, lobbyist for the ICPE, said in testimony against House Bill 1005. “Not one bit. And if we’re going to have a secretary of education in Indiana who’s appointed by the governor, you should at the very least make sure that person has the proper qualifications.”

Hand suggested requiring the appointee to have an Indiana teaching license and have previously worked as a teacher and/or and administrator in Indiana for five years.

In response to Hand’s suggestion, Bosma cited the transition of an Indiana politician-turned-educator – Mitch Daniels.

“I gave the example in committee of Mitch Daniels, who I think the consensus is among everyone I've spoken to, has become an outstanding leader of my alma mater, Purdue University,” Bosma said. “He had no experience in the classroom, no academic experience, other than his own education.”

Bosma has no problem with people who have a teaching license being superintendent of public instruction, but it shouldn’t disqualify somebody, he says.

“There may be people who are uniquely qualified through business or other experience to lead our schools in the state,” Bosma said. “Is the preference to have a license? Absolutely. Does a license, in and of itself, does make someone an outstanding leader for our state schools? I would say not necessarily.”

Despite the ICPE’s objections, Bosma’s bill passed through the House Education Committee, 10-1. It will move on to a full House vote.

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