If some state legislators are concerned about a lack of coordination between K-12 schools and higher education in Kansas, they should look at that problem but resist throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Last week, House Speaker Mike O’Neal announced his intention to pursue a constitutional amendment that would abolish the Kansas Board of Regents and the Kansas State School Board and replace them with a single cabinet-level secretary of education who would be appointed by the governor. His main justification for the move was to improve coordination for students from kindergarten through their post-secondary education.
Coordination of those efforts certainly is desirable, but having an appointed secretary of education isn’t guaranteed to improve that situation and would open the door to many undesirable political influences in the state’s education system. The State Board of Education went through a difficult time fairly recently when it became highly politicized and experienced a number of philosophical swings. Think how many more swings might occur if every time a new governor is elected, he or she appoints a single cabinet member with broad authority to set the agenda, curriculum and policies for schools from pre-K to college.
Both the State Board of Education and the Board of Regents are specifically designed to include members from from all parts of the state. State school board members are directly elected by staggered terms by Kansas voters; the regents are appointed to staggered terms and the board often includes members appointed by more than one governor. The system minimizes the political influence of any one group or governor.
It may not be a perfect system, but it provides some key representation for Kansas residents that could be lost under an appointed secretary of education. Whether by appointment or popular election, the best way to ensure education excellence is to have Board of Regents and state school board members with the courage, wisdom and knowledge needed to make powerful decisions on behalf of Kansas students.
O’Neal said he didn’t plan to push for action on the proposed amendment until the next legislative session. Perhaps by then, some less drastic ways can be found to address the Speaker’s concerns about education coordination.