Nate Smith-Tyge (@smithtyge):
The old cliché is that it is always darkest before the dawn. For public school students, teachers, parents, administrators, board members, and advocates it has been darker than “a steer’s tuches on moonless night” for about five years in Michigan. And yesterday the news didn’t get any better as the Freep reported on Governor Snyder’s next possible foray into public education. Leaving aside the abysmal failure that the EAA has been from the start, the revolving door of Emergency Financial Managers at DPS (where else, other TV weather-caster, can you get a $50k bonus for failing to perform your designated task?), and the clear partisan nature of this possible power grab – there is a clear issue of violating the State Constitution.
As an aside, I often wonder why Michigan Republicans do not hold the State Constitution in such reported reverence as their brethren in DC claim to hold for the US Constitution – after all it was crafted under the leadership of Mitt Romney’s dad.
Anyway, let’s get back to the Constitutional issue. Article Eight, Section 3 of the Constitution is quite clear about the power and roll of the State Board of Education:
“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.”
Nowhere in this section is there mention of the Department of Management, Budget and Technology. In fact you won’t find the DMBT anywhere in the Constitution as the document allows the Governor to create and manage departments not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. So, how does the Governor think an executive order can circumvent the Constitution? I’m not quite sure and I’d bet that’s what the ongoing discussion deep inside the Romney Building is focused on. If we are to go by the plain language of the Constitution, again something Republicans always preach related to the US Constitution, then he clearly has no authority to issue such an executive order. In fact, I would argue the SBE should, at minimum, have dual authority over the database housed in the DMBT.
And this is where the light might be showing through just before dawn for supporters of public education. If the Governor does issue this executive order I would call on the elected members of the State Board of Education to challenge the order in court. The SBE needs to stand up and exert its constitutional authority that has been slowly usurped ever since 1963. Governors and Legislatures of both parties have chipped away at the SBE’s authority and it is time to stop this nonsense. Article 8, Section 2 proscribes the Legislature to “maintain and support” a system of free public education – that means they provide the money. The coordinating functions of the state are vested in the SBE. The framers in 1963 were quite clear that they wanted educators making education decisions and not politicians in the Legislature (this is true for our constitutionally autonomous public universities as well). It is time we ran our public schools as they were constitutionally intended – local control, a state coordinating function in the SBE and proper funding from the Legislature and Governor. This power grab might just give a courageous SBE member (or two) the opportunity to restore the proper order in education policy in our state.