Education board calls Snyder move unconstitutional

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The State Board of Education said Tuesday that Gov. Rick Snyder violated the state constitution last week by moving through executive order a Department of Education office charged with monitoring Michigan's lowest academically performing schools into a state agency he directly controls.

Snyder moved the School Reform Office’s K-12 education reform and accountability functions to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which has a public education data-gathering office called the Center for Educational Performance and Information.

“The State Board of Education opposes any effort to diminish the constitutional authority of either the State Board of Education or the State Superintendent,” the board said in a statement that was approved in a unanimous vote.

The state board, which is controlled by Democrats, noted the state constitution does not give the Republican governor direct control over the Department of Education. It is run by the superintendent of public instruction, an appointee of the elected State Board of Education.

The Board of Education bolstered its argument by noting a section of the constitution of 1963 that says “Leadership and general supervision over all public education ... is vested in a state board of education. It shall serve as the general planning and coordinating body for all public education, including higher education, and shall advise the legislature as to the financial requirements in connection therewith.”

State board members, who are elected statewide, also argue that Michigan’s budget and management department has little educational expertise.

“Decisions affecting the educational environment, from school safety to effective learning environments and health and well-being, should be directed by those with expertise in effective education policy, not by individuals or government departments with no expertise in educating children,” the board said in a statement.

But outgoing Superintendent Mike Flanagan said last week in a statement that “the governor has the authority to do this.”

Flanagan noted former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm reversed former Republican Gov. John Engler’s decision to relocate K-12 student testing and assessment to the Department of Treasury. Granholm also returned the Library of Michigan and career and technical education to the Department of Education.

The governor and Legislature historically have exerted more control over education through the appropriating of state money and passage of laws and mandates.

Since taking office in 2011, Snyder has signaled his displeasure with the School Reform Office for a lack of progress since its 2009 inception in turning around 139 schools in the bottom 5 percent of academic achievement.

“Gov. Snyder has a constitutional and moral obligation to make a meaningful difference for the children and families in these most struggling schools, some of which have been struggling for years,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said in an email Tuesday. “We respect the State Board of Education. The governor wanted to take a more proactive approach.”

Snyder and the State Board of Education are clashing on the eve of Wednesday’s public interviews for three finalists vying to replace Flanagan, who is retiring. The three superintendent finalists are Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie Markavitch, Dearborn Public Schools Superintendent Brian Whiston and Scott Menzel, superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

The move could give Snyder flexibility to place more failing schools under direct state supervision.

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