Lawmaker to try to amend state constitution again, change education leadership structure

Published: Thursday, Sept. 22 2011 10:35 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Legislation that would overhaul the governance of public education in the state will be heard by lawmakers again next session.

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, sponsored a nearly identical proposal last year that didn't gain enough momentum to pass. Reid told an interim education committee Wednesday that he plans to push his legislation forward again next session.

His proposal would amend the Utah Constitution by taking the constitutional authority for controlling and supervising education away from the State Board of Education and give it instead to the governor. The Legislature would still be responsible for maintaining and funding education under the proposal.

"We don't listen to the executive branch when it comes to education because they do not have a role," Reid said. "We do not have any overarching authority or governance."

Because the governor currently has no say, the responsibilities of the State School Board and Legislative branch aren't clearly delineated, Reid said. What's more, without an executive leader, the higher education system, public education system and applied technology colleges tend to compete for funding and don't work well together.

Consequently, a piecemeal approach is taken, and educators have to deal with the aftermath, he said. More than 200 bills were drafted during the last legislative session related to education.

"I think education is really disadvantaged because of our system of governance," Reid said. "(Educators) are often put upon by 105 people who are trying to be school board members.

Reid's proposal would need to pass both the state House and Senate with a two-thirds majority and then be approved by voters in a general election year before it could be implemented.

Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, said there is already a balance of powers, and the governor doesn't need more control.

"I feel like that is shirking our duty and is shrinking our responsibility and enlarging the governor's," Nielson said.

Reid said some of the highest-quality education states in the nation are under the direction of the governor. He said his legislation would allow the governor create a state department of education with a governor-appointed director.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said he supports Reid's legislation and doesn't see it as a criticism of the State School Board or other education leaders, but rather a criticism of the current structure.

"I think what we've created is a system that gives the most important function of government … short shrift because we don't have a department of education that has cabinet power to argue," he said.

Stephenson said Utah's education system should run like all other aspects of state government rather than being an exception.

"We have created this really unusual aberration," he said. "I think education would be brought up to a higher level of commitment for funding and commitment for accountability if the buck stopped with the governor."

Reid said he isn't as concerned with the specific organizational structure that will be implemented should his legislation pass, but Stephenson recommended Reid come up with a framework so lawmakers and voters would have an idea of how a state department of education might function if the amendment passed.

"Until we know how this constitutional amendment would actually be applied in statute," Stephenson said, "we're kind of talking about theory."

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com

Twitter: mollyfarmer

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