Utah’s Opportunity to Reform School Board Selection

New Utah Foundation LogoThe Utah Legislature is currently struggling to find a way to reform the process for selecting candidates for Utah’s State School Board.

A federal court decision in 2014 (England v. Hatch) found that the system in use since the 1990s is unconstitutional. The system allowed a selection board appointed by the governor to vet potential candidates and recommend them to the governor for inclusion on the ballot. Opponents argued this allowed the board to choose candidates based on their political views rather than their other qualifications – and the court agreed.

A new report from Utah Foundation, Who Is In Charge of Utah’s Schools: A Look at Education Governance in Utah, says the decision, which requires the state to look at the selection of candidates, now gives the state a broad opportunity to examine at the entire process of school governance. The report included a survey of education leaders across Utah, both at the state level and in local districts.

Key findings of the report include:

  • A Utah Foundation survey of education officials at the state and local levels indicated a desire for more local control regarding revenue generation, resource allocation, training and professional development, testing and assessment, and standards.
  • In the 2015 General Session, Utah passed the second highest number of bills in the nation relating to education.
  • While elected boards might provide more accountability and responsiveness to voters, appointed boards might provide stability and are better suited to technical and financial decisions.
  • Utah’s state board election process is unique to seven states. Thirty-six states have appointed state boards, while four others have a mix of appointed and elected state board members.

“Education governance is important and complex,” said Utah Foundation Research Director Shawn Teigen, an author of the report. “While there are a number of bills circulating around the legislature at this moment in response to an urgent need, it might be time to pause – to open this Pandora’s box and examine the details of both State Board selection as well as the larger question of governance.”

Teigen added, “It might be a suitable time to see whether we should shift some school governance decisions to different stakeholders with the idea of transparency, responsiveness, stability, simplicity, and accountability in mind. And many respondents to our survey indicated that we should shift some of the Utah’s education governance from state players to local players.”

The report Who Is In Charge of Utah’s Schools: A Look at Education Governance in Utah is available on the Utah Foundation website, www.utahfoundation.org. Previous reports going back to 1999 are also available on the site, along with links to news coverage of Utah Foundation research.