Utah State Board of Education Should Be Directly Elected

Something that I've not quite understood for several years is why the governor is authorized to select two individuals from each education district to run for State Board of Education (SOE) in the general election. It kind of sounds like something that would have happened in the former Soviet Union. At any rate, I think members of the SOE should be directly elected by Utahns, rather than their 'choices' being filtered through the governor's office.

I have a fair number of things that bug me politically--that I would do differently if I could persuade enough people to agree with me. I'm glad for the Deseret News having reminded me of one of them recently. I don't like the way candidates for State School Board are put on the ballot.
...[in] the current system [] a commission screens applicants, passing on names to the governor, who picks two for each final district race. Voters then choose between those two.
Why? Makes no sense to me. During a time when it has become increasingly obvious that the Utah Education Association wants only what's best for itself, it is timely that we reconsider this law and get it fixed.

Who is on the commission that screens the applicants? Are they allowed to confab with SOE Board Chairman Kim Burningham, so that they can weed out anyone who is in favor of providing scholarships for private education vouchers or anything else that detracts from the public education system's virtual deadlock on Utah education?
How board members are elected is not in the Constitution; it just says that board members will be elected, not appointed.
Right now they're as good as appointed. Two choices, rather than one, is a pretty slick way to get around the Constitutional requirement. The Deseret News continues:
The non-partisan Constitution Review Commission will study how, or if, the governance of the board should be changed, with a report to the 2008 Legislature.

It may turn into an emotional fight, complete with strong personalities holding strong opinions, especially about private school vouchers.

"I don't like the current hybrid system" of electing the 15 State School Board members, House Speaker Greg Curtis says. "We should just have direct elections"

Said Curtis: "It may well be that we don't need any (constitutional) change. And I'm not necessarily advocating a change" — other than having direct elections of State School Board members, which the Legislature can do through statute without changing the Constitution.
I say, let us vote. Let us really decide, instead of the muckety mucks. I hope you agree. But then again, I am advocating "choice", apparently a taboo word when it comes to education in Utah.

Have good people been 'appointed' to the State Board of Education? Of course. The current system doesn't completely preclude that. In fact I know of at least one excellent member of the current Board, and others probably exist. What I'm saying is that the current method of 'electing' state board members is not really an election, as it should be.

The Soviet Communists did everything by appointment, despite their offering of sham elections. The current system of 'appointelecting' state school board members would make the Soviets proud.


  1. AMEN! The current system is undemocratic and unjust.

    Others have advocated making school board elections a partisan affair. I don't actually agree with that but have come to the conclusion that even that would be better than the current system.

    Of course my opening amen shouldn't be applied to the pro-taxpayer subsidies for rich people snark included in this post :-)

  2. I had to throw that snark in there. ;-)

    I agree with you that it shouldn't be a partisan election. But you're right--it would be better than the current system.

  3. The current system works pretty well actually. If you look at the current composition of the board, you would see a diversity of opinions. If you look at Kim Burningham's race against pro-voucher dark horse Christopher Barden, you can see those elections get pretty competitive.

  4. The fact that the elections are sometimes competitive is meaningless when the candidates are hand picked by other political leaders. Sorry Davis but Frank's comparison of this method for electing leaders with the way the former Soviet Union chose their leaders is pretty close to target.

  5. Davis,

    You're correct that some excellent people are on the board. I mentioned that in my article. I'm just saying (a) that's not the way elections should happen in America, and (b) we can do better if the elections are truly free elections.

  6. A former Board Member10/02/2007 07:07:00 AM

    You are correct. All that is needed here is a simple non-partisan primary with the top two vote getters advancing to to general election. No-brainer and better.

  7. I couldn't resist making a comment. I am Kim Burningham of whom some of you speak. I personally favor a direct election also. (I think that may not have been clear by the recent news coverage, and caused some to draw incorrect conclusions.) Some other board members do not. It is a mixed bag. I am, however, very much opposed to making school board elections partisan.

  8. Kim,

    Welcome to Simple Utah Mormon Politics, and thank you for your comments. It is good to know that you support direct elections. Having myself been misquoted and misrepresented in the press before, I should have suspected that your point of view was not presented correctly.

    Thank you for clearing that up. I appreciate and agree with your statement that these elections should be non-partisan.

    I would be interested in your feelings on school vouchers. I know you are opposed to them, but I would be interested in the details behind them. For example, several of us had a fairly cordial and educational discussion about vouchers a few days ago, here and here. I'd be curious where your opinion falls.

    My opinion changed during the course of the discussion. I still support vouchers, but I've realized that there is a problem with the way mitigation funding is set up in the current law. I think that for every student who chooses vouchers, including those already in private school, the difference between the voucher amount and the cost per public school student should be awarded back to public education, in order to reduce class sizes and increase teacher salaries.

  9. OK the "choice" comment was unnecessary.

    I'm just sick of hearing that if someone is opposed to vouchers or even this bill that they're automatically opposed to school choice. I've worked for years, at personal expense, to help give more choices to students. You think founding a charter school is a walk in the park???

    Choice must be done right. Not all types of choice are created equal. The voucher folks have co-opted their divisive agenda atop the successes of some wonderful school choice alternatives that actually do provide both autonomy and accountability.

    Enough on that for now.

    To the point of non-partisan elections I absolutely agree with Frank - let's hold a non-partisan election. Enough with the candidate screenings! Trust me public education supporters have wanted this for years.

    In one year, the selection committee actually removed a fantastic incumbent from the ballot to make way for a pro-voucher candidate. It was an abomination.

    The Howard Stephenson mentality is the real problem - remember he's the fellow who said that a tiny group of delegates, not the millions of citizens, should pick the two candidates for United States Senate.

    So, yes, please, let's bring on democratic elections. We're smart enough to choose our own representatives.

  10. Craig,

    The "choice" comment was intended to be funny. I apologize for offending you.

  11. Also,

    Thank you for pointing out the anecdote of the pro-voucher candidate being inserted. (I may even know who that was...) I agree with you that this is wrong. Under no circumstances should someone have that kind of power.

  12. No worries :-) I hear the same comment from folks who are serious about it. Apologies for being sensitized.

    Light-hearted feeling has returned.


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