Read letter on measure to give guv control over schools
Published: February 28, 2011 09:52AM
Updated: February 25, 2011 02:59PM

The state school board has sent a letter to the governor and lawmakers urging them to oppose SJR9, a bill that seeks to amend the state constitution to give the governor control over K-12 and higher education.

The bill passed out of the Senate the other day and is now headed to the House. Now it must pass the House with a two-thirds majority and then be approved by voters in the 2012 general election to take effect. You can read more about the debate in the Senate here. You can read the full text of the letter below. You can also go to Utahpubliceducation.org to see rankings of how different states with different governance systems over public education do on the SAT/ACT in response to claims by some that many of the top achieving school systems are controlled by governors.

Dear Governor Herbert and Members of the Utah Legislature,

Over the past two years the State Board of Education has worked to improve our relationship with the legislature. For the first time, in recent years, we chose to send the governor and legislature realistic budgets, based on projected revenue. We have invited legislators to visit with us about their legislation, and as a result of those visits, we have worked with and supported much of that legislation. We chose to build bridges and relationships with you. For two years, you responded to that bridge building and we created partnerships for the good of Utah Public Education and the good of the children of this state. This year, we have been disconcerted that that seems to have changed.

We are on the threshold of one of the largest changes in public education ever. Over the past two years, the State Board has created a long-term vision and mission for public education. Despite the challenges in funding education, educators throughout the state have responded positively to steps by the Board, with a commitment to Utah students to ensure that they will become college and career ready.

Amidst all of this work and progress by the State Board, local boards and educators, comes SJR 9. The State Board adamantly opposes this change in governance for these reasons:

1) SJR 9 takes away the people’s voice on educational issues. Members of the public will no longer have someone they can call who is directly answerable to them. The Governor cannot fill that role due to time and accessibility constraints. We believe the public is better served by a locally elected body focused solely on education issues.

2) The public does not want a change in governance, as evidenced by a recent Dan Jones Poll.

3) The Utah and Federal Constitutions were built upon the premise of diffusion of power. The framers recognized that a centralized government was (a) not answerable to the people, and (b) subject to abuse by the corrosive powers of the state apparatus; hence, the doctrine of separation of powers. Utah’s founders knew that vesting all of the executive powers in the governor would completely centralize executive powers. Instead, the executive powers were split between five constitutional officers: Governor, Attorney General, State Auditor, State Treasurer, and State Board of Education. SJR 9 seeks to abandon the Constitutional principle of separation of powers and diffusion of powers, and instead, establishes a more centralized government, similar to that seen in socialized systems.

4) The State Board and legislature have forged an effective partnership for public education. We believe that now is the time to work even harder to strengthen that partnership.

5) Passing SJR 9 sets the stage for another voucher-style fight through the next two years leading up to the 2012 election, distracting from the efforts of all of us within the public education arena to improve education.

6) The governor has publicly stated that the governance system is not broken. In fact, he recently told the media that the governance structure was working well. Hence, SJR 9 is a remedy in search of a problem.

7) The assertion has been made that test scores are better in states with the governor in charge of education. First, we would contend the causality link. Second, if you want to believe there is some kind of link, then we believe the most important measure of student achievement is whether or not students are college and career ready. Attached you will see data showing the ACT/SAT scaled score listings sorted by the kind of governance system in place. This shows that students achieve higher levels of college and career readiness in a governance model with an elected State Board.

The arguments raised for SJR 9 have been: (1) the Governor cannot get his education message out because he is not in charge of public education, (2) there is more efficiency in having a centralized authority over education, and (3) this will stop higher education and public education from warring over funding and create a “seamless” education system.

Our responses are: (1) the Governor has the bully pulpit and has historically gotten his message out. Most recently, through his powers, he has convened the Excellence in Education Commission. (2) A centralized authority may be more efficient, but it is not more responsive to the citizens of the state. (3) This seems to argue that because the State Board was treated better by the legislature than the State Board of Regents, the two systems should be combined to even out any inequity. Does this mean that SJR 9 seeks to decrease public education funding? As for the “seamless” system, the K-16 alliance has been the mechanism for that, and would remain so even with this change.

The State Board of Education respectfully requests that the members of the Utah House of Representatives honor the work of the Utah State Board of Education to improve education and to develop partnerships for the good of our Utah children, honor the concept of local control, and reject SJR 9. Please do not silence the independent voice of public education.

Thank you,

The Utah State Board of Education

Debra Roberts

Chair

Dixie Allen

Vice Chair

Members: Tami Pyfer, Keith Buswell, Craig Coleman, Dave Thomas, Kim Burningham, Michael Jensen, Leslie Castle, Janet Cannon, Joel Coleman, Laurel Brown, Dave Crandall, Carol Murphy, Mark Openshaw