Governor’s new appointees to the Indiana State Board of Education offer some clues to his education priorities

Gov. Eric Holcomb today announced two new appointments to the Indiana State Board of Education — although one will be familiar to those who follow state education policy.

Tony Walker, a lawyer from Gary who served on the board until 2015, will join Kathleen Mote, the interim chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College’s Columbus/Southeast Region, on the board beginning July 1. Both have terms that last until June 2020.

Current board members Vince Bertram and Gordon Hendry will return to the board until their new terms end in 2021. Bertram was appointed for the first time by then-Gov. Mike Pence in 2015, and Gordon was first appointed in 2013.

The move marks Holcomb’s first attempt to actively shape the state’s education agenda after a string of successful legislation, including more funding for preschool. His picks reflect some of his priorities, such as college-to-career transitions and school choice, but he hasn’t yet gotten as involved in education issues as his predecessors. Pence pushed hard for the state’s initial preschool investment, and Gov. Mitch Daniels was at the helm of Indiana’s major charter school and voucher expansions in 2011.

Mote, a Republican from Madison, joined the Ivy Tech Columbus/Southeast Region in 2009, before which she was a deputy prosecutor for several central Indiana counties. Under her leadership, Ivy Tech created initiatives that helped high school students earn college credits and developed career-focused programs with local businesses.

Walker is a Democrat and a strong supporter of school choice. He is also on the board of Thea Bowman Leadership Academy charter school in Gary, and he’s involved in plans for the state takeover of Gary’s public school district that lawmakers approved earlier this year.

The governor appoints eight individuals to the SBOE, each from a different congressional district. At least six of the eight must have professional experience in education, and no more than five of the eight may be members of the same political party.

Over the last two years, the state board has been absent the drama that the previous iteration engaged in under Pence and then-state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. The board was intensely critical of Ritz at the time, and the reshuffle in May of 2015 reduced much of that tension until she left office in January.

The current board members have worked fairly smoothly with state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who they voted to be the board’s chairwoman earlier this year. In 2015, lawmakers removed the requirement that the state schools chief lead the board. Critics asserted it was a move targeted at taking away power from Ritz, who often disagreed with the board and Pence.

For the last few months, two seats on the board have been open. Eddie Melton left after being elected state senator in November, and LeeAnn Kwiatkowski resigned after taking a position as chief of staff in McCormick’s administration.

Here’s the full list of who’s on the state board, effective July 1:

  • Vince Bertram
  • Byron Ernest
  • David Freitas
  • Gordon Hendry
  • Kathleen Mote
  • Tony Walker
  • Maryanne McMahon
  • B.J. Watts
  • Cari Whicker
  • Steve Yager
  • Jennifer McCormick