Every candidate for governor wants to be the education governor. They want to help our families students find a place in Utah’s K-12 system.
Some want to apply to education the principles they learned in the private sector. Other candidates want to insulate public education from the uncaring forces of business. Some want to spend more money on schools. Some want to make public education more efficient. But every candidate pledges to be the education governor.
After the election, the newly elected governor discovers that their influence over education rests almost entirely on the bully pulpit. He can’t change a rule adopted by the State Board of Education. She can’t set a local property tax rate, or approve a proposed bond. He can veto a bill the Legislature passes, but he can’t put a bill on the agenda of a legislative committee. And it’s an old, if all too accurate joke, that the Legislature uses the governor’s proposed budget to prop open the door.
The governor’s direct influence on public education is almost zero. With one exception. The governor appoints the members of the State Charter School Board, which is responsible for authorizing and monitoring more than 90% of Utah charter schools.
Since the Legislature created the State Charter School Board, Utah’s charter schools have blossomed. Up and down the Wasatch Front, throughout Cache Valley, in Red Rock country and the Uintah Basin, 78,000 students (12% of the students in Utah public schools) have found their place at one of Utah’s 135 charter schools.
As this year’s gubernatorial campaigns heat up, these basic facts suggest a place for Utahns to focus attention. As Greg Hughes, Spencer Cox, Jon Huntsman, Thomas Wright, Aimee Winder-Newton and Jeff Burningham outline their education platforms, it is critical that we know what each plans to do to expand Utah’s charter school options.
As Sunday kicks off National School Choice Week, and Monday is Charter Day on the Hill, this is the week to ask Utah’s gubernatorial candidates how they will help Utah’s charter schools. They already know that a large majority of Utahns (62% of registered voters) support charter schools. They know that Utah families want to partner with their children’s teachers.
That’s why so many families take advantage of Utah’s many school choice options: home schools, private schools, district boundary schools, district non-boundary schools, charter schools and online schools in ever growing and more tailored combinations.
During National School Choice Week, and as we celebrate the opportunities and successes of Utah’s charter schools, Utahns should press every gubernatorial candidate on what they will do to improve education. Monday offers one opportunity to press the candidates on these issues.
In the Capitol Rotunda from 11:15 to 11:45 am, each of the Republican candidates for governor will address hundreds of assembled charter school students, teachers and administrators. We hope to hear them tell us what they like about Utah charter schools, what we need to do better, and how they will help us do better.
Too often candidates campaign as the education governor, then forget about education in their governing. Charter schools offer Utah’s next governor the chance to be the education governor. This election cycle, let’s find a place for a governor who will champion choice, accountability and academic success. Let’s demand a governor who will support and improve Utah charter schools.
Royce Van Tassell is executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools.