Democratic gubernatorial candidate Woody Myers won’t say who he is considering to appoint as the first state superintendent of public instruction since the law was changed, but on Saturday he described the main qualification as an expert public school educator.
The General Assembly and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb changed state law in 2017 to replace Indiana’s elected education chief with one appointed by the governor. Last year, Holcomb signed legislation to fast-track the first appointment to happen after the November election.
That means current state superintendent, Republican Jennifer McCormick, is the final elected office holder. Her term ends this year.
“And while I haven't named a choice, I'd like to certainly appoint someone who fully believes in quality public education for our kids," Myers said. "Who understands the needs of our families across the state, and prioritizes public education over the private interests of corporations, and will hold the charter schools accountable."
Myers made the comments Saturday during the virtual annual meeting of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education (ICPE). The bi-partisan, non-profit organization opposes legislation to fund private school vouchers. It also advocates to change the current accountability policies for charter schools and roll back other school reform measures passed since 2009.
Myers said he and running mate Linda Lawson backed the ICPE’s platform and would attempt to integrate similar ideas if voters elect them over Holcomb and incumbent Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch in the November election.
“I just know that if elected, I get this opportunity to implement our (education plan) to reverse the changes that have been made in the past decade — plus, we're going to put Indiana on a much better footing,” Myers said.
Holcomb has also not said who he would appoint to the new position. His campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday. Libertarian Party candidate Donald Rainwater has said he would “reduce the size and scope” of the state education department.
Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, said his choice for the state superintendent would be a professional public school educator who is “well qualified in the field of education” and puts people above politics.
“I actually see a few people on the Zoom screen that have such experience, will have to see what their plans are going forward,” Myers said.
McCormick and Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, ICPE state president, were two of just a handful of people featured in the virtual meeting.
Myers also described qualifications for the appointment as someone with experience as an administrator in a school system and teacher in the classroom.
“All of those are big, big pluses,” he said. “And you know, it's not 100 percent required, of course, but already having a strong Indiana experience -- boy, that's a huge plus as well.”
McCormick, who spoke later during the meeting, said she appreciated Myers taking time to address the group.
“This race is extremely important,” she said. “I’ve talked to Dr. Myers, he’s asked a lot of great questions about education. I highly respect that. I think that is incredibly important, when anyone running for office who is going to touch education, they need to know and have honest answers.”
McCormick is worried how staff at the State Department of Education and current programs could be impacted by who is appointed to lead the agency.
“I've worked with a lot of people over the past four years,” McCormick said. “... if Gov. Holcomb is in a second term, I know what that means for Indiana. And yes, I have concerns.”
McCormick’s comments about Holcomb are not new. The education department and governor’s office have been at odds on issues throughout much of the past four years. McCormick’s take on education policy is far different from the GOP supermajority who have enacted some of the most sweeping education reform polices in the country.
McCormick has called for more accountability on charter schools and private schools using taxpayer-funded vouchers.
Charter advocates counter that such schools are held accountable by their individual boards, the authorizing board that approved the charter, and the State Board of Education.
Glena Ritz, McCormick's predecessor and the first Democratic school chief in decades, fought bitterly with former Gov. Mike Pence over the same concerns and the office's role on the State Board of Education.
In 2018 McCormick announced she would not run for re-election when her term ends in 2020. That led Holcomb to urge lawmakers to speed up the timeframe to make the superintendent office appointed in 2021, rather than 2025 as required by the original 2017 legislation.
Last year McCormick toured the state with Sen. Eddie Melton as he ran for Democratic nomination for Indiana governor. Melton later withdrew from the race.
Hoosiers For Public Education, the advocacy arm of the ICPE, will be endorsing and supporting candidates in the November election.