They’ve fought against global warming and evolution being taught as fact in science classes. They’ve argued that sex education has become “comprehensive” and strayed too far from abstinence. And they’ve credited national teaching benchmarks for math and English with “expanding socialism.”
Now, the two most conservative and outspoken members of the Utah Board of Education are resigning.
Alisa Ellis and Lisa Cummins announced they will step down midterm, leaving their seats in June and stripping the board of two strong voices for parental rights.
“It’s been an enjoyable time. I am sad and glad, and I should probably write a children’s book about this,” Ellis joked Thursday during the board’s monthly meeting.
Ellis and Cummins announced that they each would be moving to different states with their spouses who have accepted jobs outside Utah. Ellis will go to Arizona. Cummins will go to Texas.
The departures are likely to shift the ideological balance of the panel that oversees the state’s public schools. Currently, five members of the 15-person board could be considered right-leaning, while three are left-leaning. The rest fall somewhere in the middle.
With two conservative members leaving, the board could move more to the center.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert will be responsible for recommending replacements to fill their spots, and those nominees will have to be approved by the Utah Senate. With the appointments, three members of the board will have been chosen by Herbert, who recently placed longtime businessman Shawn Newell in a seat earlier this year after another member stepped down.
Herbert’s education adviser, Tami Pyfer, said: "When making appointments, the governor’s highest priority is to select individuals who are committed to improving public education for all Utah students.”
Meanwhile, conservative member Michelle Boulter said, “Any change to the board, whether it be by election or resignation, has an impact on the board. We form friendships and respect for each other, and it is always hard to see someone go."
Jennie Earl, a proponent of local control on the board and a strong advocate for home schooling, said she’ll miss Ellis and Cummins, whom she typically votes in line with.
“We’re all going to miss them," she said. "They’ve been great advocates for parental rights.”
The terms for the people who will replace Ellis and Cummins will end in 18 months, meaning the seats will be up for election again in November 2020. Board positions have four-year terms.
Cummins said that she’s accepted a position with Moms for America, a conservative nonprofit focused on women and mothers promoting “principles, values, and virtues in the home,” according to its website. During her time on the school board, she has pushed for more parental involvement in education and more opportunities for families to opt their kids out of material they don’t approve of (such as standardized testing).
“I’ve opened up dialogue into parental oversight in education,” she said Friday. “From what I have seen from other states, I think Utah is leading in parental engagement.”
Cummins also has led the efforts against updating the sex education standards for Utah schools. In November, she voted against a public review, saying: “I have grave concerns that comprehensive sexuality is creeping into this. … Our state is a family-based state, and we need to uphold that.”
She has been an active member of the advocacy group Utahns Against Common Core, which opposes the national Common Core standards for each grade level. In 2017, she called it a “socialist program.”
“I am continuing with the repeal of the Common Core standards,” Cummins said Friday.
Ellis has been a proponent of local control and has railed against new science standards for including too heavy an emphasis on climate change and evolution “as a fact and not a theory.” She was the one member to vote against the move to draft new teaching guidelines.
“These national science standards, they have little to do with science and a lot to do with what is politically expedient,” she said at the time.
She has also challenged the board for approving standards based on national benchmarks rather than creating them specifically for the state. She believes education should be decentralized. Ellis offered the same criticism of updating the guidelines for sex education, worried that students would learn too much about contraception and too little about chastity.
Ellis said she added “a different perspective and point of view” to the board during her tenure. She hopes those remaining will “remember the crucial role that parents play in the state."