Proposals are again afoot to eliminate the state board of education (KSBE) governing K-12 education as well as the board of regents (KBOR) overseeing state universities, centralizing control of Kansas education under a Governor’s appointee.
This is not the first time some legislators have wanted to change the KSBE, and it won’t be the last.
There are fifty states and fifty variations on governing K-12 schools.
Day-to-day operations are overseen by a State Superintendent of Instruction or a Commissioner of Education. In 24 states, the State Board appoints that officer. In 14 states, the people elect this administrator. And in 12 states, it is a Governor’s appointment.
In 12 states the State Board is appointed and the Board appoints the chief officer. In 11 states, the governor appoints the State Board and the Commissioner or Superintendent is elected by the people. In nine states, the governor appoints both the State Board and the chief officer. And in eight states, the State Board is elected and appoints the Superintendent or Commissioner. The size of those Boards varies widely, but Kansas follows this last model.
Ten districts across Kansas elect their State Board of Education representative, five each two years. Each serves a four year term, thus allowing overlap of half of the Board. This provides continuity when compared to governor-appointed boards that change dramatically when the Governor changes.
In two states (New York and South Carolina), the state legislature appoints the Board. In two states (Texas and New Mexico) and the District of Columbia, the State Board is elected and the Governor or Mayor appoints the chief officer. In Mississippi, the Board is a mixed appointment between the executive and legislative branches. And Louisiana, Ohio and Washington state have a mix of appointed and elected boards and chiefs. (More complexities can be found at the National Association of State Boards of Education website: www.nasbe.org)
In two states, Minnesota (appointed) and Wisconsin (elected), the chief has no State Board and is the "education czar." Such a system risks education policy being whip-sawed from pillar to post, requiring everyone to follow Madeline-Hunterism for a few years, then all teachers have to switch to cooperative learning, then to outcomes-based learning, then to state standardized education, etc.
Some folks are bothered by Kansas having a 10-member Board that allows a 5-to-5 deadlock. This is a non-problem. To pass any policy currently takes 6-out-of-10 votes. But if we had eleven State Board members, it would take (surprise!) still six votes to pass any item. Where is the problem?
Our Kansas State Board of Education system has some self-promulgating powers, more than in some states. It establishes educational policy (State Board Regulations) after required open hearings. Sometimes considered a fourth branch of government, it still lacks the all-important power of the purse. But a Board of individuals well-educated in the complexities of schools can rapidly address issues—a stark contrast to states where legislators with little understanding of education micromanage school policy.
The Kansas Board of Regents is a different agency with appointed regents. A less public operation, seeking input mainly from the regent’s universities, its operation is run along "CEO" lines. Recently, community colleges and tech schools were moved from KSBE to KBOR jurisdiction for better coordination of tertiary education. That isn’t working at all. But the proposed elimination of the Boards does not solve that problem.
Such changes are state constitutional amendments. Changing the State Board of Education has come before the people of Kansas twice, and failed both times. Kansas is a populist state. We like to elect our state K-12 school board. As they say, it has a snowball’s chance, and the weather is getting warmer every day.