Jacques: GOP plan would disband state education board

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Rep. Tim Kelly is tired of playing nice with the Michigan State Board of Education. In fact, he doesn’t want the board to exist at all anymore.

The Republican from Saginaw Township contends the Democrat-controlled board has a far-left agenda and that it’s wrong that the governor has so little say in who is running the Michigan Department of Education.

“It’s time to do something,” he says.

The elected State Board’s latest affront is its proposed guidelines for how public schools should treat gay and transgender children during the school day. The policy as it now stands blatantly leaves parents out of essential conversations about their child’s choice of gender at school, including what name a student wants to go by as well as what bathroom and locker room transgender students get to use.

This discussion has pushed many GOP lawmakers over the edge. Kelly introduced a joint resolution on Tuesday that would do away with the State Board, as well as the state superintendent. Instead, there would be a director of education, appointed by the governor, to oversee the Education Department.

The resolution is co-sponsored by 30 of Kelly’s colleagues in the House. But Kelly’s not sure if he can get the two-thirds majority necessary in both chambers to put the proposal before voters. Since it would amend the state constitution, the measure would have to go before the public during a general election.

Regardless, he thinks it’s worth a shot.

Kelly says most Michigan citizens have no clue who serves on the education board, which is responsible for general oversight of schools in the state; the board also is charged with hiring the state superintendent.

“It is a nameless, faceless board,” Kelly says. “They are totally out of step with the citizenry.”

Other lawmakers have expressed their frustration with the board. House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, and Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, are among legislators who have condemned the board’s LGBT proposal.

And Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac, cut $24,000 in travel reimbursement funding for board members from the House education budget. Board members are not otherwise paid.

Gov. Rick Snyder isn’t happy with the current system of school governance either. Michigan is one of only seven states that doesn’t allow the governor to appoint the state superintendent or any board members.

In 15 states, the governor appoints the head school officer. And in many others, the governor appoints the board of education members who then choose the superintendent.

“The governor should run education as he sees fit,” says Kelly. And he believes that to be true regardless of which party the governor represents.

Last March, Snyder issued an executive order moving the School Reform and Redesign Office from under the control the Education Department and supervision of the State Board to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which he controls. Snyder was frustrated with the lack of results in turning around the state’s lowest performing schools.

Kelly is a longtime foe of the State Board. In the 1990s, when he was education policy adviser for Gov. John Engler, he spearheaded the shift of K-12 standardized test oversight to the Treasury Department from the Education Department. Gov. Jennifer Granholm moved testing back under the MDE when she took office.

These fights over education control aren’t helping the state as it seeks a unified vision for improving schools.

And the best defense for having a State Board is that the members’ eight-year terms offer stability as governors change.

Kelly’s response? “That’s hogwash.”