INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Ñ
Indiana senators approved making the state schools chief a position
appointed by the governor and not elected by voters after rejecting a
proposal on the same issue earlier this session.
The fate of the
initiative, a top priority for Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, was put in
doubt in February when the Senate unexpectedly defeated their version 23-26.
In the issue’s
return to the Senate chamber Tuesday, a modified House proposal was accepted
in a 28-20 vote, with five Republicans flipping their no votes to yes.
Democrats mounted a
protest at the start of the measure’s discussion, arguing that a Senate rule
stipulating that 26 or more “nays” means similar language cannot be
considered again that session should have prevented its consideration or
vote. They also challenged its consideration in a Senate panel Ñ but both
efforts were unsuccessful.
GOP Senate Leader
David Long has said that amendments made in committee render the bill
substantially different than the previous measure.
Both give the
governor’s office authority to appoint the head of the Department of
Education. A Senate committee added a residency and degree requirement for
the governor’s appointed schools chief, set stipulations for previous or
current employment and moved the date the law would go into effect from 2021
“Today what we are
trying to do is bring to the office of the governor not more power, but more
coordination, for the growth of jobs in this state,” Republican Sen. James
Buck of Kokomo, a bill sponsor, said Tuesday.
The effort to make
the chief an appointed position comes after four years of conflict between
Democratic former Indiana schools chief Glenda Ritz, then-Gov. Mike Pence
and Republican leaders in the Legislature over the state’s grading system
for schools and private school voucher system, among other things.
Some proponents of
this bill contend that conflict isn’t the sole reason for the push this
year, saying the idea has been supported by people on both sides of the
aisle over the years.
Still, it was a
subject of discussion Tuesday, with Sen. Andy Zay describing education as a
“punching bag” the last four years.
“It is my opinion
that, in putting the governor in line with the superintendent, that
hopefully what we had the last four years and the politics that permeated
the Department of Education and education throughout the state will not
occur again,” the Huntington Republican said.
Those opposed to
the measure say Indiana residents have a right to speak and should not lose
their opportunity to elect a schools chief aligned with their values.
“What message are
we sending to the people that sent us down here today?” Democratic Sen.
Eddie Melton of Merrillville asked. “... We are getting ready to usurp, to
take power from voters.”