Flagged Bills: SB 46 & SJR 1 – State Education Governance Revisions & Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution – State Board of Education Changes – Sen. Al Jackson

Senator Al Jackson (Republican - Highland)
Senator Al Jackson (Republican – Highland)

You may not have known it, but Utah actually has a big problem on its hands when it comes to education. Surprisingly, this problem has nothing to do with teacher pay or per pupil spending…though how the issue is resolved may have just as big of an impact on the education of our children.

In September of 2014, District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that the current selection process of the state school board was unconstitutional, on the grounds that it violates free speech guarantees.

[pullquote]The process of electing members of the Utah State Board of Education is unconstitutional, and Senator Al Jackson has a semi-partisan solution to the mess with SB 46 and SJR 1[/pullquote]To be sure, the process is a convoluted one. Individuals first submit their name as potential candidates for the State School Board election, these names are then reviewed by a committee and some names are thrown out. Out of all original candidates, three names are forwarded to the governor per seat; from there the governor will choose two names to appear on the November ballot.

Just about everyone agrees that this system prevents the lay person from actually advancing to a State School Board seat; at issue, however, is that Waddoups provided no solution to his finding, and simply told the legislature that they have to figure it out.

Needless to say, opinions abounded during the 2015 legislative session…with no solution.

The reason for this is that there are just about as many models for setting up a State Board of Education as there are states. Some states have 8 members, some 21. Some states have totally partisan elections while others are solely appointed by a governor. And New Mexico and Wisconsin don’t even have a State Board of Education, instead, a group of educational professionals decide what each state’s curriculum will look like.

Senator Al Jackson (Republican – Highland) is the first lawmaker to take a shot at finding a workable situation with SB 46 – State Education Governance Revisions and the constitutional amendment related to it with SJR 1 – Proposal to Amendment Utah Constitution – State Board of Education Changes.

SB 46, if successful, would make a few key differences to both the selection and makeup of the Utah State Board of Education (USBE). First, Jackson is proposing that the USOE be reduced from the current 15 members to 13. Two board members would come from each of the state’s four congressional districts and the five remaining positions would be selected by the governor with the consent of the Senate. Now, of the eight elected offices, four would be partisan elections while the other four would be non-partisan.

SJR 1 simply serves as a way to update the state constitution to allow for the change in the USBE makeup. Its success is dependent on voters approving the measure in November.

As judged by the wide variety of school boards across the nation, Jackson’s proposal seems as good as any to help solve Utah’s USBE constitutionality issue. Furthermore, Jackson’s bill represents a true hybrid of various unsuccessful proposals that floated around the capitol in 2015 with some lawmakers calling for full partisan elections while others wanted the issue to be completely free of politics. To that end, it is easy to see why Jackson is proposing the legislation in this form.

It seems troubling, however, that the provision of providing, at least, some partisan option is a must-have for lawmakers. Though we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that education isn’t politicized, it seems dangerous to have “political party” be a primary reason for choosing the people that educate our children. If elections were totally non-partisan, voters would have to (hopefully) do their research prior to voting for a USBE member, rather than by simply pushing a button and calling it a day. Though it is possible that a governor would choose, and the Senate would confirm, candidates with no political bias, this seems improbable. The practical end result, then is that nine of the 13 USBE members will, most likely, be sitting in the chair because of political connections, rather than educational ones – and this doesn’t feel right.

To contact Senator Jackson, click here or call 801-216-4479 (Home).

You can track this, and all of our other flagged bills, by clicking here. Need an explanation of scores? Click Here.

For SB 46:

Impact on Average Utahn 0-1-2-3-4-5
Need for Legislation 0-1-2-3-4-5
Lemon Score 0-1-2-3-4-5
Overall Grade C

For SJR 1:

Impact on Average Utahn 0-1-2-3-4-5
Need for Legislation 0-1-2-3-4-5
Lemon Score 0-1-2-3-4-5
Overall Grade B

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