SALT LAKE CITY — A resolution that would amend the state constitution and put the governor in charge of education in Utah passed the Senate on Tuesday with a necessary two-thirds majority.
It must now pass the House with a two-thirds majority before it can be put on the ballot for voters in the next general election.
SJR 9 is sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, who told lawmakers Utah's education system needs a single leader who can create unity and focus.
"There needs to be a champion," he said. "We are below average. That has to change."
Currently, the control and supervision of public education is vested in the State Board of Education, which is elected by the public. The Legislature is responsible for maintaining and funding education, while the governor makes recommendations to the Legislature.
Reid said the public already believes the governor is in charge, yet he actually has no control over about 60 percent of the state's budget.
"(The governor's) control over education is like pushing a rope," said Rep. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. "There is no line of authority."
Stephenson said he fully supports the resolution and believes it will end some of the finger-pointing that takes place among the different governing bodies today.
"It is the elegant answer to fixing public education," he said.
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, voted against the resolution, commenting that the current distribution of powers of state leadership was put into the Utah Constitution on purpose.
"I don't think that's in the spirit of what our public education system was designed to be," Davis said.27 comments on this story
Reid told his fellow senators that the resolution doesn't necessarily eliminate the State Board of Education, but takes away its constitutional authority. The governor could appoint board members if he or she chooses to do so. He said if the legislation passes the House, it will require vetting out during interim. The governor and lawmakers will work together to decide on the logistical implications of such a change, he said.
The resolution passed the Senate 22-6 with one senator absent. It now moves to the House.