A resolution that would give the governor control over education in Utah passed Wednesday in the Senate.
SJR9 seeks to amend the state constitution to place public and higher education under the governor's control. The Senate passed SJR9 by a vote of 22-6, a two-thirds majority. In order to take effect, the resolution would have to also pass the House with a two-thirds majority and would then be put to voters in the 2012 general election.
"Only a governor can provide the over-arching authority and coordination to bring the various silos of education together in support of his economic development goals," said resolution sponsor Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, noting that Utah ranked 41st in the nation for education performance and policy according to a recent Education Week report.
Now, an elected State Board of Education supervises K-12 education and a governor-appointed Board of Regents oversees higher education. Reid said if his resolution passes, state school board members would no longer be elected but would be appointed by the governor. Reid said he would want to work with the governor and Legislature to let current members serve out their terms.
But Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said he has concerns with the idea of moving toward gubernatorial control and away from elected state school board members.
"What we're saying is we're going to get more involved, the governor is going to get more involved and we don't care about the local control anymore," Davis said. "I don't think that's in the spirit of what our public education system was desired to be by our founders."
Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said she has received a number of calls from people concerned the move would make education more partisan.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, however, called it "the elegant answer to fixing public education."
Now, he said, "the buck stops nowhere because everyone can point to someone else because no one really has the authority to take the bull by the horns and direct change in public education."
After the debate, state school board member Dave Thomas called the resolution "disturbing," saying "it seems like there's an attempt to silence the independent voice of the state board."
"It seems counter intuitive to Republican principles," Thomas said referring to the founders. "Instead of diffusing power it would be consolidating power ... I'm not sure what they're trying to fix."
Reid said he has spoken with Gov. Gary Herbert about the resolution, and, "He doesn't support it because he doesn't want it to appear he's doing a power grab, but he also doesn't oppose it."
Ally Isom, Herbert's spokesperson, said Wednesday that Herbert is not taking a public position because it is a resolution and his signature is not required.
The resolution now moves to the House.