Indiana teachers union endorses former state schools chief Jennifer McCormick for governor

A woman with medium blond hair stands behind a wooden podium with a person wearing a blue suit and a set of stone stairs in the background.
Jennifer McCormick, a Democrat running for Indiana governor, stands with Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. The union has endorsed McCormick for governor. (Aleksandra Appleton / Chalkbeat)

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Indiana’s largest teachers union on Wednesday endorsed former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick for governor, casting her as an experienced voice against policies that have defunded and deprofessionalized public education in the state.

McCormick is the presumptive Democratic nominee preparing to face off against one of six Republican candidates — as well as Libertarian Donald Rainwater — in the November election.

The timing of the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) announcement is notable, because it comes a day after the last scheduled debate for gubernatorial hopefuls in the GOP primary race, and roughly two weeks before the May 7 primary elections. The union did not endorse a gubernatorial candidate in 2020.

McCormick’s emphasis on funding for traditional public education differentiates her from the field of Republican candidates, who champion school choice policies like universal vouchers and the potential expansion of Education Savings Accounts next year. She faces an uphill battle in Indiana, which has been led by Republican governors since 2005. If elected, she would need to work with the Republican supermajority in both chambers of the legislature.

But speaking at a Wednesday media event with the union’s political arm, the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education, McCormick said she would lead with civility and common sense, rather than “chaos and extremism that helps no one.”

Among her priorities, she said she would challenge lawmakers’ moves to divert more money from public schools and oppose depictions of public education as a boogeyman.

“We have 90% of our families at a time of choice that … choose public education, but the funding does not,” McCormick said. “It is the only system that is inclusive, that allows anybody who walks through that door to get educated, and embraces everyone, regardless of color, socioeconomics, who they love, who their parents are married to, and how they identify.”

McCormick is a former teacher, principal, and district superintendent, who in 2016 ran and was elected as a Republican for the state’s top education job against Democratic incumbent Glenda Ritz.

McCormick was the last elected superintendent of public instruction before the office was changed to an appointed one in 2021. That year, she broke with Republicans over issues like standardized testing, and later she announced that she had switched her political affiliation to the Democratic Party.

She is also endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers Indiana.

On Wednesday, she also said that more teachers are leaving the profession because of increasing expectations for them and attacks on what and how they teach. It would be better, she said, to listen to teachers about what would help improve educational attainment.

“They change our curriculum, our instruction, and assessment, and it’s not just to prepare us for a new world, it’s to make trend data confusing so that it makes public education look as bad as it can look,” McCormick said. “We’ve reinvented our high schools three times in the last five years … it causes chaos.”

Speaking in support of McCormick, teacher Stacy Kurdelak said lawmakers’ moves over the years have led to fewer collective bargaining protections for teachers, less funding for schools, and reduced resources for students.

“I have watched positions not be filled when teachers leave, slowly shrinking our staff, leaving my students in our community with less,” she said. “We can do better.”

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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