Saturday, April 17, 2021

Who runs schools: board, legislature, governor?


Most of the talk about school these days in the media, thankfully, happens far away from actual classrooms. We would be remiss not to mention it, but at the same time, we have no intention of dwelling on arguments and political battles that don’t have much of an effect on how good an education we’re providing for our children.

Gov Bobby Jindal at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, April 2010 (Cheryl Gerber / Getty Images)

But every so often, a point of discussion comes up, and we have to divert our attention for a moment. What happened in Louisiana this week, as a state appellate court ruled that Gov Bobby Jindal didn’t have the authority to cancel a procurement contract for PARCC tests that had already been negotiated and signed by duly appointed authorities within the state.

Mr Jindal, who wants to be president, says he’ll appeal the ruling, the Beaumont Enterprise reports. But at this point, a three-judge panel for Louisiana’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal has ruled that his attempt to suspend the testing was an “unconstitutional interference” with the education department and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Judge John Pettigrew went so far as to say the entire basis of Mr Jindal’s accusation that the contract violated “state procurement law [was] a mere pretext to cloak [his administration’s] true intent to influence education policy in Louisiana, over which the Louisiana Constitution grants exclusive authority to the Legislature and BESE.” UPDATE: An appellate court agreed.

This case brings up an interesting question: Who runs our public schools? It used to be the state board of education passed some authority to local boards of education, but then under President George W Bush, the federal government got into it with the state boards. That federal involvement, mostly in the form of accountability testing, made its way down to local boards and into our classrooms.

It also used to be that governors had some control over who sat on the state board but otherwise stayed out of education policy. The state boards were accountable to the governor only through the appointment and approval process, but now some governors interfere with the decisions of the board as they’re being made, rather than just replacing board members they don’t like, as they used to do.

For example, Arkansas Gov Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, convened his Council on Common Core Review, which just finished a “listening campaign” that had members traveling around the state to collect stories about the standards. A final report is expected in the fall, but the panel already recommended that the state dump the PARCC tests. Mr Hutchinson, happy to hear such news, then told the state board of education to find something else, such as the ACT or ACT Aspire. The board rejected his request, though, so it seems battles between governors and state boards are getting more entangled.

Furthermore, state legislatures used to control the money—and they still do—but many are now attaching strings to the money that influence how school subjects are taught and, in particular, how they’re tested. This year alone, the National Council of State Legislatures has tracked more than 700 bills in dozens of state houses that deal with the Common Core, the tests aligned to the Common Core, or how the state will use data from those tests, according to Daniel Thatcher of the NCSL, who participated in a webinar for reporters earlier this week.

It will also be interesting to see what happens in Indiana, where the question of who runs the schools will be put to its clearest test yet. Glenda Ritz, who now serves as the elected state school superintendent in the state, is running for governor. She may or may not have a chance, but the issues she’ll raise during the campaign can only be good for education.

She’ll certainly, just for starters, force a discussion about education in Indiana. Even as she answers questions about other issues affecting state politics, she’ll be doing so from an educator’s viewpoint. Even if she wants to, she will have no more ability to speak as a non-educator than she’ll have to speak as a non-woman.

Second, if she loses the election for governor, the state school superintendent position gets tricky. She’s a Democrat, and her absence from the state superintendent race could open up an opportunity for a Republican. She has indicated that if she loses in the gubernatorial primary, she’ll seek re-election as state superintendent, but it gets complicated if she wins the primary and has to devote her time to the gubernatorial race in the general election.

And whether she’s the head of Indiana education, the governor, or nothing at all, the state legislature could still pass laws that cut off funding for tests or any other educational programs instituted in the state. The state has already abandoned the Common Core and replaced it with a set of standards that essentially change the name of the Common Core and nothing else. And governors can veto bills, of course, but they can also use them as a power play.

It’s going to be interesting in 2016 with a presidential election and election for governor in some key education states.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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