Indiana schools chief Jennifer McCormick won’t run for re-election, citing political clashes

Indiana’s top education official abruptly announced Monday that she will not seek a second term, saying politics is getting in the way of her education plans for the state.

“I’ve made up my mind,” said state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. “It has been an honor to serve Indiana … I will still serve students for the rest of my life, but it may not be in this role.”

McCormick, a Republican who is getting ready to begin her third year in office, said she has been getting questions about her future as an elected official that have become a distraction from the work she wants to carry out at the Department of Education. McCormick won her seat in a stunning victory over Democrat incumbent Glenda Ritz in 2016. McCormick will continue her term through 2020.

Clashes between then-Gov. Mike Pence and Ritz, a Democrat, prompted state leaders to vote in 2017 to make the state schools chief an appointed position in 2024. The move was meant to remove politics and create more cohesion between the governor and state education policy.

When the law was passed, McCormick said she supported the change. Since then, though, she and her fellow Republicans have not seen eye to eye on issues including early education, publicly funded vouchers for private school, and how the state rates schools — despite campaign rhetoric that suggested they might.

McCormick’s education policy views quickly revealed themselves to be far more similar to her predecessor’s than those of the school choice champions who backed her, despite campaigning on promises of close collaboration with her Republican colleagues. McCormick spent her entire career as an educator and administrator in public schools. Previously, she served as the superintendent in Yorktown, a small district near Muncie.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a statement Monday that he had been informed of McCormick’s decision, but that it’s still only the halfway point of their terms.

“Dr. McCormick and I spoke about her decision not to seek the office of state superintendent again in 2020 and her legislative priorities for the next two years. 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.

McCormick said Monday she began her tenure trying to “play by the rules” and “play nice” with her colleagues on the Indiana State Board of Education and in the Republican-controlled legislature and governor’s office, but she said she’s concluded that Indiana’s “governance structure” is not healthy.

She said questions about future elections and her thoughts on appointing Indiana’s schools chief are distracting from her work.

“For that conversation to keep coming up … I’m growing very weary of that,” McCormick said. “The best way I can help shut that down is to let people know that I’m not running again.”