Michigan considers abolishing its state board

Michigan considers abolishing its state board

(Mich.)  The Republican-led Legislature moved ahead last week on a long-shot plan to abolish the state board of education and put school policy controls into the hands of the governor.

Currently, the eight-member board serve eight year terms after successfully winning the support of voters in statewide elections. One of the main functions of the board is the appointment of the state superintendent, who is charged with running the Michigan Department of Education but is still dependent on the Legislature and the governor to fund services.

The proposal to do away with the board, while tinged with partisan politics, was originally proposed last year in a report from a blue ribbon panel appointed by Gov. Rich Snyder, but has attracted some interest from the education community.

There is general recognition that the existing system—where legislative leaders, the governor, the state board and the superintendent all share authority and responsibility over education policy–isn’t working.

The blue ribbon panel proposed three options for updating governance of the public schools in a sweeping report released in February :

  • Allow the governor to appoint members of the state board and retain the board’s duty to hire the superintendent.
  • Abolish the state board altogether and make the state superintendent a gubernatorial appointment.
  • Expand the number of seats on the state board and give the governor the authority to appoint the additional members.

A resolution, which was narrowly approved by a legislative committee last week, went with option two: abolish the board and give the governor power to appoint the state superintendent.

The proposal faces an uphill road, however, because it would require a change in the state constitution. Thus, not only does the plan need approval from two-thirds majority in both houses, it would also require voter support.

In its February report, which detailed a comprehensive set of recommendations for upgrading the entire Michigan school system, the governor’s panel noted that no other high-performing state has such a power-sharing arrangement.

“The SBE was created in the 1960s to provide leadership and supervision over public education and make recommendations to the Legislature on the financial requirements for the institutions,” the commission reported. “This SBE structure acknowledged the importance of education and sought the benefits of insulating education decisions from day-to-day politics through long-serving (eight-year terms) members overseeing a professional superintendent and department of education.”

But the commission also pointed out that candidates for the board must come through the party convention process, which promoted partisanship. “While well-intentioned by its architects, accelerating political forces do not allow the SBE to play its independent education policy leadership role,” they said.

While the proposal to abolish the state board has drawn significant public attention, it was just one of many recommendations that the commission made.

Overlooked, for instance, was the call to increase state spending on both K-12 schools and higher public education by almost $2.5 billion a year. The lion’s share of that money would go school districts serving mostly low-income, at risk students.

The commission also called for enhanced teacher preparation programs along with more professional development. They said the state needs to update its assessment program and revise its accountability system.