Holcomb Announces Education Adviser Katie Jenner As Indiana's Next Top School Official

Nov 19, 2020

Gov. Eric Holcomb will appoint Katie Jenner as Indiana's first-ever appointed education secretary.
Credit (Courtesy of Governor Holcomb's office)

Gov. Eric Holcomb will appoint Katie Jenner as Indiana's first-ever appointed education secretary. Holcomb announced his pick for the state's top school official in a statement Thursday.

Jenner currently serves as the governor's senior education advisor – a position she's held throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Jenner has also previously worked as a career and technical education teacher in Kentucky, and as an administrator for Madison Consolidated Schools in Indiana. 

She also has worked as the vice president of K-12 initiatives and statewide partnerships at Ivy Tech Community College. 

Jenner will take on the role after current Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick leaves office in January.

How Indiana Got Here

Discussions and attempts to appoint the state’s top education official have gone on for more than a decade. At different times, both Republicans and Democrats have supported the idea as part of their platform. 

The idea gained traction after the 2008 election. That’s when political fighting over the superintendent position began shortly after Republican Tony Bennett took office. 

Bennett, with backing by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Republican majority in the Statehouse, pushed through a series of far-reaching reforms that transformed the state’s education system. Creating a private school voucher program, expanding charter schools and the state's letter grade accountability scale were some of Bennett’s accomplishments. 

But labor unions, many traditional public school teachers and Democrat lawmakers opposed Bennett's agenda. Then in 2012, Democrat Glenda Ritz ousted Bennett in a longshot bid to become education chief. 

Within a year, former-Gov. Mike Pence and Ritz were attracting national attention for their public arguments over state policy, federal funding and academic standards. Ritz accused Pence of "not seeking a power-grab, but rather a complete takeover” of state education policy after he formed a new education agency by executive order to support his appointees on the State Board of Education. Around this time, lawmakers began discussing the idea of giving the governor power to appoint the state's superintendent of public instruction.

Then in 2016, Yorktown Community Schools Superintendent McCormick beat Ritz. 

During McCormick’s campaign, she criticized Ritz for the public arguments with Pence and other state leaders. 

Despite sharing party affiliation with Holcomb, McCormick began to diverge from Republican-supported education issues, as she criticized charter schools and the state’s school accountability model. 

In 2017, House Speaker Brian Bosma was leading the charge that the governor should appoint the top education official. The General Assembly then made it official, with the change to an appointed education secretary happening by 2025, in part to allow McCormick to seek reelection.

But McCormick announced in 2018 she would not seek reelection, which prompted lawmakers to amend the 2017 law, moving the change to 2021.

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.