Indiana schools chief rules out running for another term

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — State schools chief Jennifer McCormick announced Monday that she will not seek another term as the head of the Indiana Department of Education, a decision she attributed to a “governance structure” that is getting in the way of doing “what’s best for kids.”

“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,” the Republican said. “Now that I’ve learned the governance structure, things are very complicated in Indiana.”

Bitter ideological clashes have dominated debate over the direction of Indiana education policy dating to at least the tenure of McCormick’s predecessor, Democrat Glenda Ritz.

That’s due in part to the way education decisions are made. The State Board of Education, which votes on policies, is a separate agency from the superintendent’s office. Legislative leaders and the governor’s office have considerable sway over its members. The Department of Education, on the other hand, is controlled by the superintendent’s office and is responsible for implementing the board’s decisions.

Clashes over issues like schools vouchers and charter schools led Republicans who dominate the Statehouse to pass a law in 2017 that will switch the elected superintendent’s position to one that is instead appointed, starting in 2025

McCormick is in her first term after ousting Ritz in 2016. She said questions about her own future in the office impeded her ability to focus on the job.

“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.”

Though a Republican, she has at times been at odds with GOP statehouse leaders. That includes her support for increased scrutiny of charter and voucher schools that receive state money.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said he spoke with McCormick about her decision.

“I 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 in a statement. "... We’ll take the steps necessary to ensure Indiana has the best team working together to provide the highest quality education for children.”