Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Earlier today, 31 Republican members of the Michigan House of Representatives introduced House Joint Resolution HH, which would ask the voters to amend Article 8 of the Michigan Constitution to eliminate the State Board of Education, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the State Board for Public Community & Junior Colleges. If the measure were to pass, the Michigan Department of Education would be placed under an individual director, who would be appointed by the Governor alone.
It appears that the measure is primarily motivated by rising tensions between the State Board of Education and the Michigan House of Representatives GOP majority over the issue of LGBT rights. In addition, the measure would further entrench the primacy of the Governor’s office in the field of education by eliminating any remaining power still held by the State Board and its Democratic majority. As I have written in the past, Governor Rick Snyder has already stripped away much of the authority of the State Board of Education, systematically consolidating many of the Board’s former powers under his own personal control.
For example, you might recall that Snyder removed the School Reform/Redesign Office (“SRRO”) from the Department of Education and transferred it to the Department of Technology, Management & Budget (“DTMB”) last year. The SRRO has broad powers to take over schools, close buildings, dispose of assets, and consolidate and outsource services through the use of CEOs—appointees who serve as emergency managers in all but name. Snyder provided no explanation of why the SRRO should be ripped from the Department of Education, where the Legislature had placed it by law, and arbitrarily grouped with the markedly unrelated functions of DTMB. I questioned the constitutionality of the transfer at the time, and I continue to do so today.
But don’t start worrying about House Joint Resolution HH just yet. To become part of the Michigan Constitution, the proposal would need to be adopted by two-thirds of the members elected to and serving in both houses of the Legislature. Thereafter, it would have to be approved by a majority of Michigan voters at the next general election. Each year, dozens of proposed constitutional amendments fail to generate sufficient legislative backing, and fade into obscurity without ever making it to the statewide ballot. Mark my words: There is no way that House Joint Resolution HH will win the approval of two-thirds of the members elected to and serving in the Michigan House of Representatives. And the fact that no parallel resolution has been introduced in the Michigan Senate provides evidence that the measure lacks significant support in the upper chamber.
The people who ratified Michigan’s state constitution intended for school policy to be made by education experts—not by politicians in the Governor’s office. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention—people like George Romney, John Hannah, William Ford, and Richard Austin—set out to design a system in which policy decisions concerning curriculum, teaching, and school administration would be removed from the control of the Governor and the Legislature. A great deal of debate at the convention centered on whether the Governor should have a voting seat on the State Board of Education, whether the members of the Board and Superintendent of Public Instruction should be appointed by the Governor, and whether the Legislature should retain any substantial authority in the area of K-12 policy. Republicans and Democrats alike answered each of these questions in the negative. A majority of the delegates, and then a majority of the electors, decided that the State Board and State Superintendent could best perform their mission if they were wholly independent from the Governor’s political influence. To this day, Michiganians still understand the importance of having a professional state education department that operates independently of the political branches of government.
In the end, House Joint Resolution HH is political theatre orchestrated by 31 anti-civil-rights, anti-public-education lawmakers, many of whom are term-limited and possibly looking for employment with right-wing interest groups. How sad that 31 grown men and women would use the legislative process to put on a show like this, wasting resources and punishing the people of our state simply because they don’t agree with the State Board members. I’d like to ask them one question: Whatever happened to the concept of sitting down and discussing your differences like adults?
These state representatives will never convince 43 of their Republican and Democratic colleagues to go along with their plan, and they know it. House Joint Resolution HH will never pass the House or move on for consideration in the Michigan Senate. After all, it isn’t meant to. The immediate purpose of House Joint Resolution HH is not to effect any real structural change—it is merely to provide a vehicle by which 31 out-of-touch individuals with no appreciation of Michigan constitutional history can show off for a few bigoted constituents.