Topeka — House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, on Thursday urged approval of a constitutional amendment that would abolish the State Board of Education and Kansas Board of Regents.
It would authorize the governor to select a Cabinet-level secretary of education.
“I do not see a great deal of coordination between the Board of Regents and K through 12 right now,” O'Neal told the House Education Committee.
He described the 10-member State Board of Education as “dysfunctional” because it has 5-5 votes on some issues.
But Gary Sherrer, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, and Ken Willard, a member of the State Board of Education, opposed the proposed constitutional amendment. Sherrer said it was “a solution seeking a problem.”
Currently, the nine-member Board of Regents, which supervises higher education, is appointed to staggered terms by the governor. The board hires a regents president. The Education Board is elected from districts and appoints a state education commissioner.
Sherrer said the regents was created in 1925 in order to protect higher education from political abuses and direct control of the governor.
“We have in place today a governance and coordination structure that encourages collaboration, reduces duplication, enhances Kansas' quality of life, and boosts the state's economy,” he said.
Willard said the Education Board would become more politically motivated if it were susceptible “to the changing political environment of the governor's office.”
“While the proposed new governance of education could, no doubt be made to work, the question is, what is the evidence that it would, in fact, serve the interests of the people of Kansas better than the cooperative leadership model now in effect,” Willard said.
Missy Taylor, with Kansas Families for Education, said the proposal would produce too much uncertainty within the education system.
“Every time a new governor is elected we could see a change in leadership for our educational system, and this could prove detrimental for our schools and our students,” she said.
John Masterson, president of Allen County Community College and chairman of the Community College Council of Presidents, said O’Neal’s plan would be disruptive to higher education.
“The current structure makes our educational system less subject to political forces,” he said.
O'Neal said his proposal may be better suited for legislative action during the 2012 legislative session. But, he said, he wanted the debate to start.
Proposed constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate before they can be placed on the ballot for voters to decide.
On Wednesday, the Education Committee recommended a proposed constitutional amendment from O’Neal that is aimed at preventing lawsuits against the state alleging inadequate funding of public schools.