Is a Drive for Power Engulfing the State Board of Education?

I am convinced many actions in the public arena are motivated by the desire for power, and I have concluded the true measures of a public official may well be, “Is power for power’s sake the goal? How did they use power? Was the power used to serve the community? Or was the power used to drive a politician’s personal ambition?”

Two observations:
  • The American dream seeks to limit the abuse of power
  • The Utah State Board of Education’s current actions appear to consolidate power
The American dream seeks to limit the abuse of power
In opposition to the early abuses in such doctrines as “the divine right of kings,” the Constitution of the United States is a model for creating limitations on power:
  • By dividing the government into three separate branches, the framers of the Constitution created a system designed so no single branch can accumulate too much power. The legislative branch has authority for making the laws; the executive of enforcing them; and the judicial for interpreting them.
  • Even the Legislature’s power is diffused by the creation of a bicameral legislature where the two divisions of the Legislature act as a check on the other.
  • The Constitution also limits the power of the federal government by reserving some powers for State government.  Amendment X stipulates “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
  • On the other hand, the states’ power is clearly limited in the 14th Amendment which insists, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens….”  Further, the states cannot regulate commerce with foreign countries nor with other states, declare war, nor raise or support an army or navy.
Issues about the separation of power were debated in the original constitutional convention and are still debated.  A Civil War was fought in this country regarding the power of individual states.  Arguments abound about the line between the power of the President and the power of the Congress.  In a troubling move this year, one presidential candidate (Senator Cruz) clearly wishes to reduce the independence of the Supreme Court.
The division of power is not limited to the federal level of government.  The same reasoning can be seen at the state level. The work of counties, cities, even school boards illustrate the point.  Still, friction exists as some State politicians seem to be eager to wrest control from what some deem to label the “lower” levels of government.
The line may be blurry, and the issues will constantly need careful examination; however, I am convinced division of power is one of the great principles of our government.
The Utah State Board of Education’s current actions appears to consolidate power
Currently, the actions of the Utah State Board of Education concern me.   For sixteen years, I was a member of that Board, and for seven years I served as chair.   During that time, numerous efforts were made to share power and to increase input from other agencies.   We met with the Governor and the Legislature often.  We invited representatives of local school boards, higher education, and minority groups to join our group on a regular basis.  We formalized public hearings.
I no longer serve on that Board, but from my vantage point it appears an effort to increase board power and reduce input from other groups is growing.
During the last decade in an attempt to be more inclusive, the Legislature passed legislation mandating representatives of the System of Higher Education (the Board of Regents), the Utah College of Applied Technology (UCAT), and the State Charter School Board serve as non-voting members of the State Board of Education.  In the same period, by board rule, representatives of the Utah School Boards Association (USBA) and the Coalition of Minority Advisory Committee (CMAC) were also asked to join.  These moves brought diverse voices to the table.  I particularly thought the inclusion of minority representatives was important since the elected Board currently has no members representative of that important part of our community.
During the term I served prior to my retirement, I was surprised to discover a suggested rules change.   The change illustrated the desire of some to eliminate diverse voices.  I argued vehemently against such a move, and it was temporarily delayed.   But only, I discovered, temporarily!
In the 2015 legislative session, the requirement to include representatives from the Board of Regents, UCAT, and the Utah State Charter School Board were eliminated (HB360).  From my vantage, the action slid through the Legislature rather unobtrusively.   Immediately following the session, the board acted to eliminate the representatives of CMAC and USBA.  Diverse voices were eliminated from the Board.  (Please note because of constitutional requirements they never were voting members, but they often shared unique and important perspectives.)
A recent move was reported just last week (Salt Lake Tribune, August 11, 2015, p.1).  The headline explained the Utah School Board has dropped out of the education coalition.  “For two decades, a coalition of parents, teachers, principals and district administrators has met to set goals, discuss education policy and research legislation.”  The article continues, “In May, state school board representatives alerted the Utah Public Education Coalition that the board would be ending its longstanding participation in the group.”
Board Chair, David Crandall explained, “To me, it doesn’t feel like much of a change.”  I beg to differ!  I believe diverse voices at the table increases the likelihood of thoughtful decisions.   It is my understanding that at least some current Board members miss the presence of the other representation.  It appears to me the board is moving to increase its power and to ignore valuable points of view.
The warnings against the assumption of power are numerous.  The nation’s founders understood the danger.  I fear some in our state who are responsible for vital education decisions are falling into the power grab trap our founding fathers sought to guard against!!!