Make the SBOE an Appointed or Advisory Body?

Political news in Kansas often involves the State Board of Education, so it’s no surprise that it has become an issue in the governor’s race. Kathleen Sebelius called the board “an embarassment” in a debate with her challenger Jim Barnett.

“The governor said the current school board isn’t accountable to taxpayers, parents and business leaders. Its 10 members are elected and pick a commissioner to run the Department of Education.”

(She further tells the editorial board of the Topeka Capitol-Journal: “I think we have a real institutional, structural problem in the state. The elected school board that we have in place doesn’t function in this day and age.”)

Say what you will about the decisions of the state board, but what about the allegation that they are not accountable to taxpayers? Last we checked, each member of the board was elected. Recently, the board has made some decisions that have upset many people, and the composition of the board will change after the general election. The state board of education is at least as accountable to voters as local boards are, if not more so, given their higher profile. In addition, the state board, unlike local boards, has no authority to levy taxes.

What does Barnett say about the board? He would like to make the board have an odd number of members, so as to avoid ties. That seems reasonable. He also supports the idea of electing board members. We’re of no particular position on the question.

Governor Sebelius, on the other hand, proposes increasing the power that the governor’s office has on education. ”

Sebelius has said she will propose a constitutional amendment to allow the governor to appoint a secretary to oversee the Department of Education and make the 10-member board advisory.”

In all, education in the state is far too political. Granted, anytime that public money is spent, political discussions will ensure. But it would be better if more of the responsibility for spending were pushed down to people who have the most at stake in education–children, in the form of their parents and guardians.

The Capitol-Journal offers another rundown on the story, with a review of legislative proposals made concerning the board over the years. Three previous attempts to take power away from the board made it out of committee, only to die in final votes on the floor.

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