My Guv’nah Is Stronger Than Your Guv’nah

February 24, 2010 | Blog

Governors are an interesting group. Always. They are not interchangeable spirits. Just think of some of the characters and personalities amidst their ranks: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rick Perry, Bill Richardson, Jennifer Granholm, Ed Rendell, Haley Barbour.

With regard to education, governors do not come to the job with equal chances to impact the policy agenda. I grew keenly aware of this when I worked for the National Governors Assoiciation (NGA) from 2001 to 2004. Some of this is due to personalities and individual capacities, such as whether they effectively use their bully pulpit and engage in policy conversations. And some is due to politics, such as whether they campaigned for office on education. But much of the reason for this variation is out of governors’ control: It is due to widely varying nature of state educational governance systems.

This Education Commission of the States brief [summarized below] maps four models of state educational governance, present in 40 of the 50 states. (The other 10 states utilize hybrid models, furthering confusing the situation.) The most important fact is that ONLY 13 governors directly appoint the chief state school officer. That gives one pause in considering how empowered chief executive officers really are to tackle changes to public education. Most certainly cannot go it alone – and perhaps that’s a good thing in certain ways, but it certainly doesn’t produce direct reform trajectories.

Model One: The governors appoints the members of the state board of education. The state board, in turn, appoints the chief state school officer (variously called the State Superintendent, Commissioner, Education Secretary, etc.) Twelve (12) states utilize this model: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia.

Such state systems do not provide the governors much power over education governance. They accrue it over time as they appoint state board members — usually with staggered terms — and eventually gain a majority if they remain in office long enough.

Model Two: In this model, the state board of education is elected and the board appoints the chief state school officer. Eight (8) states utilize this model: Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada and Utah.

Clearly, this model generates extremely weak gubernatorial control over public education, although chief executives in these states still wield the power of the purse, vetoes, and the like.

Model Three: In this model, the governor appoints the members of state board of education. The chief state school officer is elected. Eleven (11) states utilize this model: Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wyoming.

Again, this is a governance blueprint for weak gubernatorial influence, although right-to-work states with histories of strong state influence over education — such as North Carolina — challenge this general assumption. Former NC Governor Jim Hunt has a lot to do with this, I believe. In his case, the power of personality transcended a weak governance structure. Differences also can be caused by differential continuums of power between state boards of education and chief state school officers.

Model Four: In this model, the governor appoints the state board of education and the chief state school officer. Nine (9) states utilize this governance model: Delaware, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia.

This would appear to be a template for strong gubernatorial control over public education, but of course it doesn’t always turn out that way, depending on personalities, political choices made, and state education systems with a strong history of and preference for local control (here I’m thinking Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire). However, this group of states has certainly produced recent governors that were strong leaders in education — Tom Kean of New Jersey, Tom Carper of Delaware, Mark Warner of Virginia, Dick Thornburgh of Pennsylvania are examples.

The remaining 10 states function under modified versions of the above four models. Models A (Louisiana and Ohio) and D (Texas) are relatively strong pro-governor structures, while Model B empowers state legislatures over governors in New York and South Carolina. Model E as implemented in Minnesota and New Mexico also provides those governors with significant power; not so much in Wisconsin, although the Badger State governor historically has had very strong veto powers. (Ever heard of the Frankenstein or Vanna White veto?)

A. Elected and Appointed State Board; Appointed Chief

In Louisiana, eight board members are elected and three are appointed by the governor. In Ohio, 11 board members are elected, while the governor appoints eight members.

B. Legislature Appoints State Board; Appointed or Elected Chief

In New York, the state legislature appoints the board members and the chief state school officer is appointed by the board. The South Carolina legislature appoints the board, but the chief is elected.

C. Joint Appointment of State Board; Appointed or Elected Chief

The governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House appoint members to the state board in Mississippi. The state board appoints the chief state school officer.

In the state of Washington, the board of education is made up of 16 members ­—­ five of whom are elected by district directors (three for the western half of the state, two for the eastern); one at-large member elected by members of boards of directors of state-approved private schools; the superintendent of public instruction; seven members appointed by the governor; and two student members (non-voting). The chief state school officer is elected. Washington moved from a model whereby the state board was elected by district directors (local boards) to this model in January 2006.

D. Elected Board; Governor Appointed Chief

The governor appoints the chief state school officer who also serves as the executive secretary of the elected state board. Texas uses this model.

E. No State Board or Advisory Only; Elected or Appointed Chief

Minnesota and Wisconsin do not have a state board of education. New Mexico has an elected body (Public Education Commission), but is advisory only.

Minnesota and New Mexico – chief state school officer is appointed by governor

Wisconsinchief state school officer is elected.

As Education Week‘s Alyson Klein reports, in this recent blog post about the just-completed NGA winter meeting, governors of both parties are AOK with the Administration’s initial movement on ESEA reauthorization. NGA Chairman and Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, however, did invoke the word ‘flexibility,’ which is a tried-and-true part of the NGA mantra and which is being peddled far more aggressively by the NGA’s sister organization, the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In today’s meeting, which was part of the National Governors Association’s Winter Conference, governors voiced “zero” concerns about federal intrusion in state business when it came to the Title I proposal, Secretary Duncan said in an interview with reporters outside the White House.

“This is being lead by the governors,” he said. “We have to educate our way to a better economy. All of the governors understand this.”

That’s all well and good. But, the fact is, that some governors’ opinions matter more than others, and some, while not wholly irrelevant, are hardly decisive actors. The fact that Race to the Top has empowered governors to take the lead in education reform conversations and to lead states’ applications for these competitive dollars has changed the dynamic somewhat. Because they are not directly in charge of public education in most states, however, most governors cannot expedite change along the lines that the Obama Administration is calling for without attending to building relationships, cajoling, convincing, and achieving reform one step at a time.

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