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Citing Political Infighting, Indiana Schools Chief Says She Won't Seek 2020 Reelection

The Republican said her decision to leave office after just one term largely was prompted by ongoing political infighting over the status of the state superintendent's office, which she sees as "noise" and a distraction from educating children.

By Dan Carden

Jennifer McCormick, the state superintendent of public instruction, added a bombshell footnote Monday after announcing her goals for next year's legislative session -- she will not run for re-election in 2020.

The Republican said her decision to leave office after just one term largely was prompted by ongoing political infighting over the status of the state superintendent's office, which she sees as "noise" and a distraction from educating children.

"I have no patience for that, because I got into this office because I said I wanted to do what's right for kids, and we have stayed focused on kids; our team has stayed focused on kids, and we will continue to stay focused on kids," McCormick said.

She indicated that "pockets of people" in Indiana's education community are pushing to move up to 2021 the start date for a governor-appointed "secretary of education," as a replacement for the elected state superintendent of public instruction.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly last year set the changeover for 2025 due to a Senate procedural issue. There were no proposals advancing the start of an appointed state schools chief filed during the 2018 General Assembly.

Nevertheless, McCormick said she's regularly asked by school leaders and parents about the issue, which she said drains the energy out of every conversation, and "I'm just growing very weary of that.

"I've made up my mind. I'm not going to run for state superintendent," McCormick said.

"To put that out now, to say I have no intentions of running for a second term, hopefully will calm that rhetoric down."

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who previously said he was satisfied with the 2025 start date for an appointed secretary of education, indicated it may be time to consider moving it up, "Now that we know that she has decided not to seek re-election."

"There's a lot of work to be done and there's not a day to waste," Holcomb said. "If there is a more ideal way that will better serve kids in the state of Indiana and how we educate, then we need to get to that as quickly as we can."

McCormick said her decision to leave office also was due in part to the educational governance structure in the Hoosier State.

As state superintendent, McCormick said she has all the responsibility of complying with state and federal law and implementing education policy -- but little say over the decisions that shape those laws and policies.

"The governance structure doesn't make sense. It's not student-friendly. It's not school-friendly at times," McCormick said.

"I know there's a lot more that we could offer students but because of barriers, it's a struggle."

Indiana essentially has two, somewhat duplicative state education agencies: McCormick's Department of Education and the State Board of Education.

Legislative Republicans and Republican Gov. Mike Pence built the state board into a competing education agency between 2013 and 2016 to reduce the power of Democratic State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who McCormick defeated in an election-night shocker.

But state lawmakers have not returned much of the office's former authority to McCormick despite her membership in the Indiana Republican Party, and Republican-appointed state board members have stymied her initiatives on teacher hiring and school accountability reform.

McCormick said regardless of her situation, she believes Hoosiers should be wary of an appointed state schools leader since the position, in other states, tends to be a revolving door based on the educational trend of the moment.

"I am a firm believer that citizens should have a voice. They should have a voice in education," McCormick said. "We are half of the state's budget. We are the future of Indiana."

Looking ahead to the two years remaining in her term, McCormick vowed: "We're going to get a lot of impressive work done."

That includes asking next year's General Assembly for a 3 percent annual increase in student tuition support, boosting funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programming to $20 million over two years up from $2 million, expanding pre-kindergarten availability beyond 20 of the state's 92 counties and promoting school safety.

"We will continue to work tirelessly," McCormick said. "I will always be here for kids, I will not waver from that and I won't play politics."

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said the state's largest teachers union supports McCormick's call for increased education funding and is disappointed that McCormick will not seek re-election.

"She has been a strong advocate for public schools and her voice will be missed at the Statehouse," Meredith said.

(c)2018 The Times (Munster, Ind.)

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