It's not likely the governor's chair in Utah will be filled anytime soon by a Democrat. Not as long as Utah voters continue to close their eyes and hit the straight-party "R" button on their voting ballots.
That's why conservative Republican legislators feel comfortable in proposing that the governor be given more power over public education than the Utah Constitution now allows.
The Constitution provides for a state board of education, with members elected by the people, to specifically oversee schools and hire and fire the state school superintendent. But the dominant conservative elements in the Legislature, ever micro-managing education to the detriment of Utah children, are proposing an amendment to change that. They want to amend the Constitution to require the governor's approval and the Senate's consent on hiring state superintendents and give the governor the power to fire a superintendent, after consulting with the state school board.
That change would inevitably make the top education official a political appointee, not necessarily an expert on education but someone Republicans could count on to further their education agenda.
Fortunately, even if SJR5 is approved by the Legislature, it would require a majority vote of the public in 2014. 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.
It's not surprising that Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, who is sponsoring SJR5, is also the chief sponsor of another piece of legislation that would make even more difficult Utah's already daunting process for placing before voters a referendum such as the one that killed the voucher law in 2007.
For years, Utah's conservative legislators have worked to undermine public education by starving it of adequate funding and attempting annually to try to privatize schools step by step. 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.
The Utah Board of Education has one goal: the excellent education of Utah schoolchildren. 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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