The Utah Constitution does not give the governor and Legislature power over public education, but instead provides for a state board of education, with members elected by the people, to specifically oversee schools. Ever micro-managing education to the detriment of Utah children, the Legislature now will consider amending the Utah Constitution to change that.
If those who wrote the Constitution had been able to look into the future at the current Legislature, controlled almost entirely by conservative Republicans who would like nothing better than to privatize public education, they probably would have done even more to keep power out of their hands.
So it's fortunate that a move to give the governor and Legislature more authority to make decisions about public schools would require a vote of the public. Utahns have a commitment to their neighborhood public schools, and they demonstrated that fondness when they decisively voted down a law that would have siphoned their tax money away from public schools to private schools in 2007.
Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, is sponsoring two bills that would, first, give lawmakers and the governor authority over the choice of Utah's state school superintendent and, second, change the way the state school board is elected.
Utah's conservative legislators have for years worked to undermine public education by starving it of adequate funding and attempting annually to try to circumvent the will of the people. It is a crusade that grows out of their narrow ideology, not a commitment to improving education for Utah's schoolchildren.
Giving the very people who work against public education more power over how it is run, contrary to the Utah Constitution, would be a huge mistake.
Reid's SJR5 would amend the Constitution to require the governor's approval and the Senate's consent on hiring state superintendents. It also would give the governor the power to fire that person, after consulting with the state school board.
Now, the state school board alone is in charge of hiring and firing the state superintendent, as provided in the Constitution. If lawmakers pass the resolution this session, a majority of Utah voters would then have to approve it in 2014 to change the Constitution. Reid's companion bill would end the undemocratic process of a state committee nominating state school board members and return to local nominating committees.
The current system is political and dysfunctional, but the right way to reform it is to let Utahns vote directly, choosing from among all candidates who want the job.
The Utah Board of Education has one concern: the education of Utah children. Its members should be elected directly, and they, not legislators and a governor with political and ideological agendas, should oversee public schools.
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