SALT LAKE CITY — Long-rumored as a 2016 challenger to Gov. Gary Herbert, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, confirmed Friday she has thrown her hat into the ring to be Utah's next state superintendent of public instruction.
"I respect the State School Board and their absolute constitutional authority to make the decision as to who will help them lead public education into the future," Lockhart wrote in a post on her Facebook page. "I trust that my application, along with all the others submitted, will be considered on its unique merits and evaluated with the goal of moving forward in a new and positive way."
Lockhart has served in the Utah Legislature since 1998 and was selected as House speaker in 2010. Earlier this year she announced she would not be seeking re-election but until now had kept relatively mum on her future plans, leading to speculation that she intended to challenge Herbert for the state's governorship.
Attempts to reach Lockhart for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
During the most recent legislative session, Lockhart pushed for a full-scale overhaul of the use of learning technology in Utah schools. The so-called Public Education Modernization Act ultimately failed amid funding concerns, as the price tag for equipping every public school student with a learning device was estimated between $200 million and $300 million.
Lockhart's professional background is in the medical field, including a nursing degree from BYU and experience as a registered nurse and hospital board member.
Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, president of the Utah Education Association, said she appreciates Lockhart's passion for education but also worries about the potential for a non-educator to assume the highest executive position in Utah's public education system.
"I think that we have seen time and time again what has happened when we have folks who are not trained educators, who are not in the education profession, who are making policy and being put in positions where they’re making decisions about education," Gallagher-Fishbaugh said.
She said candidate for a superintendency ideally should have managerial experience of a business-related nature, but they should also have deeply embedded experience in curriculum development, classroom instruction, pedagogy and other areas that contribute to good policy decision for the state's schools.
"It is very, very concerning to me that we would even be looking at anyone, whether it is Speaker Lockhart or someone outside of our state or inside our state, who does not have a deep experiential period in their life and education in their life in education itself," Gallagher-Fishbaugh said.
Utah State Office of Education spokesman Mark Peterson said he could not disclose the names or number of candidates the State School Board is considering for state superintendent.
The qualifications listed for potential candidates include a demonstrated success developing and overseeing executive teams, 10 years of relevant experience and a preference for candidates who have earned an advanced degree, Peterson said.
"A candidate need not be licensed as a public educator," he said.
The State School Board is expected to select a new state superintendent in late September or early October. The board's selection is not subject to approval or confirmation by Herbert or the Utah Legislature.
If selected, Lockhart would replace State Superintendent Martell Menlove, who has held the post since 2012.
On Thursday, the board appointed former State School Board member Joel Coleman to serve as interim state superintendent while the candidate review process moves forward.