The job of state superintendent of public education is not an elected position; rather the State Board of Education picks the chief staffer of all schools.
Otherwise, Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart could be in trouble
– and its not just Democrats and independents who don’t want her to be the new superintendent, most members of her own Republican Party aren’t backing her bid, a new UtahPolicy.com poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates shows.
Among all registered voters, 25 percent say Lockhart should be the new superintendent; but 52 percent said no.
When Jones breaks out the opinions by political party affiliation, it doesn’t get much better for the Provo Republican.
Twenty-eight percent of Republicans said the State Board should appoint Lockhart, while 48 of the GOP said no, she shouldn’t get the job.
Utah is a very Republican state – and being from that party is usually a great advantage in politics.
But if a GOP officeholder can’t get the support of her party, then she is clearly doing something wrong.
Jones found that Democrats oppose Lockhart’s appointment 12-68 percent, while political independents oppose it 24-55 percent.
The 15-member, nonpartisan elected board, will make its decision likely in October, maybe November.
Which doesn’t give Lockhart time to get some citizens on her side – even if she were to try.
Lockhart’s problem is clear: According to the poll she simply doesn’t qualify to hold the top public education staff job.
And, again, it is her own Republican Party colleagues that believe so.
Lockhart holds a college degree in nursing. And she has sat on the boards of several hospitals.
But she holds no advanced degree in public management nor in education.
She has never been a certified teacher, school administrator, not even an elected local school board member.
And Utahns polled believe those are important qualifications for the superintendent’s job.
— 55 percent of Republicans said the superintendent should hold a PhD.
— 54 percent of Republicans disagreed with the statement, put forward by Jones, that the superintendent DOES NOT need to be a former teacher or school administrator, but should have a good understanding of how Utah’s public schools operate. (This would be a Lockhart strong point; she has helped put together Utah’s billion-dollar school budgets.)
Lockhart’s greatest strength in applying for the job is that she does understand Utah politics, knows public school financing and is able to get things done in the Legislature.
But even those skills don’t count for much among her own Republican Party rank-and-file.
Jones found that 42 percent of Republican believe the above qualifications are important in a new superintendent, but 48 percent disagree they are needed for the job.
Utah’s 104 part-time lawmakers tend to live in a political bubble.
Especially party leaders are courted by lobbyists, special interest groups, and told how important and vital they are to Utah’s democracy.
In short, one can get a big head.
Not saying that Lockhart has, but here’s a reality check:
— Sixty-two percent of her fellow Republicans have either never heard of her, or if they have heard her name, they have no opinion of her.
— Only 21 percent of Republicans have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of Lockhart, who has been in the Legislature since the late 1990s and is ending her second term as speaker – a position generally believed to be the most powerful politically in Utah behind the governor.
Finally, in the 2014 Legislature Lockhart surprised her colleagues by putting forth a multi-hundred-million dollar initiative to give every Utah student a laptop, tablet or other high-tech computer tool.
Her GOP Senate colleagues wouldn’t go along – and ultimately the speaker withdrew her proposal after the Senate offered around $15 million and Lockhart said the beginning price needed to be at least $28 million to have any positive impact at all.
In putting forward her bold idea of greater technology in the classroom, Lockhart said she wanted to be a force for change in public education.
But, ironically, Jones’ poll doesn’t show that Utah Republicans think such change is needed.
Thirteen percent of Republicans said Utah’s public education system is doing just fine.
While 54 percent said the system “needs modest improvement.”
But only 26 percent of Republicans said Utah schools need “a major shakeup” with new teaching methodologies and more technology.
Interestingly enough, Lockhart’s ideas of major changes in Utah schools finds more favorability among Democrats and independents, Jones found.
[Editor’s Note: Zions Bank is a sponsor of UtahPolicy.com and participates in the Dan Jones & Associates polling, much to the appreciation of UtahPolicy.com.]