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UPDATE: In political throwdown, Snyder signals lack of confidence in state Board of Education

Update, March 17th, 2015 1:15 PM:

In response to Governor Snyder's Executive Order moving the state School Reform Office (see original story below) out from control of the state Department of Education and into the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget, the State Board of Education released the following statement, calling into question the constitutionality of the Governor's order:

The Constitution of Michigan of 1963 states “Leadership and general supervision over all public education, including adult education and instructional programs in state institutions, except as to institutions of higher education granting baccalaureate degrees, is vested in a state board of education. It shall serve as the general planning and coordinating body for all public education, including higher education, and shall advise the legislature as to the financial requirements in connection therewith.” The Constitution of Michigan of 1963 further states, “The state board of education shall appoint a superintendent of public instruction whose term of office shall be determined by the board. He shall be the chairman of the board without the right to vote, and shall be responsible for the execution of its policies. He shall be the principal executive officer of a state department of education which shall have powers and duties provided by law.” The framers of the state Constitution were clear in their intent to vest oversight of Michigan’s public education system with a publicly elected board that would appoint a State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The reasons for such are as relevant today as they were in 1963. Decisions affecting the educational environment, from school safety to effective learning environments and health and well-being, should be directed by those with expertise in effective education policy, not by individuals or government departments with no expertise in educating children. The State Board of Education opposes any effort to diminish the Constitutional authority of either the State Board of Education or the State Superintendent. We believe that the Executive Order 2015-9, signed by Governor Rick Snyder on March 12, 2015, violates the State Constitution by stripping the State Superintendent of his/her authority to execute the policies of the State Board of Education. We respectfully request that the Governor reconsider this action and restore the Reform/Redesign District to the direct supervision of the State Superintendent.

The language in the statement was  unanimously adopted by the Board.

Original Story, March 16th, 2015 8:55 AM:

The state Board of Education goes into its final round of interviews this week with candidates to be the next Michigan superintendent of public instruction. This will be the state’s first new superintendent in a decade.

It’s an intensely political job.

The superintendent reports to the board of education, which is elected by voters. The board also runs the state Department of Education; unlike other state Departments which are run by the governor.

Right now, we have a Republican governor and a six-to-two Democratic majority on the education board. To make the org. chart even more complicated, the governor approves the education budget while the superintendent serves in the governor’s cabinet. In theory, the state superintendent is the governor’s top advisor on education policy.

To get anything done, the superintendent has to balance a number of competing interests: The board, the governor, the Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature, local school boards, local superintendents, teachers unions, and parents.

Oh, and don’t forget the business interests. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, for example, is one of the most active and vocal lobbyists on education issues in the state.

Turning around low-performing schools is a Snyder benchmark issue, and the efforts to date have had mixed results.

It’s personal

Everyone has some kind of connection to education and everyone thinks they understand it. It’s like sports, ask any coach how much advice they get from people who think they know how to make their team win.

But governors have another unique authority here. Though the governor may not directly run the Department of Education, he, or she, can reorganize it.

And, that’s just what Governor Rick Snyder did last week.

It’s about control

Snyder plucked the School Reform Office, which controls about 140 of the state’s lowest-performing schools, out of the Department of Education and moved it into a department that he does control, the Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

The move, “will give us an opportunity for me to be more proactive on educational issues,” the Governor said.

It’s a throwdown

Turning around low-performing schools is a Snyder benchmark issue, and the efforts to date have had mixed results.

In fact, Democrats have used it as a punching bag. Cue Democratic Representative Brandon Dillon. “It hasn’t worked. It’s not going to work, and simply just transferring the functions to the governor is not going to change the fact that the model is broken,” Dillon said responding to the move.

And, we have to consider the fact that the governor moved the agency just as the Board of Education is about to hire a new superintendent.

This is a signal from the governor that he lacks confidence in the board, and has the confidence, instead, that he can fix Michigan’s educational system regardless of what anyone else - including and maybe especially, the education establishment - might think.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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