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Utah's state school board will not join with Gov. Gary Herbert in calling for federal legislation to identify state governors as key partners in education.
In a split 7-7 vote on Friday, the board rejected a request from Herbert's office to sign a letter supporting amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which would require the governor's signature on plans for spending federal education dollars in Utah.
The letter and amendments are being pushed by the National Governors Association as a means of strengthening collaboration between state leaders as federal legislators work to rewrite the controversial No Child Left Behind Act.
"It's a letter that governors across the states are looking at in one form or another," said Tami Pyfer, Herbert's education adviser.
But school board members said the amendments would go beyond encouraging collaboration and instead bolster the powers of Utah's governor at the expense of the school board's constitutional authority.
Vice chairman David Thomas said the board would have no means of overriding the governor, should he object to the state's education plans.
"It basically gives the governor the opportunity of having veto authority over our Title I program," Thomas said. "I view that as inconsistent with our state constitution."
But Pyfer argued that state law currently gives the governor some executive power over the school board's application of federal education dollars.
The letter, she said, was only intended to signal general support for state-level collaboration, not as a power trade between two constitutional entities. Pyfer said a governor would naturally be more engaged in education if his or her signature were required on state school plans.
"I was disappointed that [the discussion] seemed to center on who has power," she said. "It's really about giving students power. It's about working together and combining power."
Provo Republican Sen. Curtis Bramble said the ESEA amendments would foster a consistent and cohesive voice reaching the federal government from the state of Utah. By bringing the governor into the loop of federal education programs, he said, the state's schools would better be able to draw on the resources of higher education and workforce services, which do not fall under the oversight of the state school board.
He is one of a group of state lawmakers sending a similar letter to Congress.
"That's the collaboration we're looking for," Bramble said. "It's not trying to take any power away from this board."
But board member Dixie Allen questioned why an amendment to federal law is necessary for Utah agencies to collaborate. She said Utah's governor used to meet weekly with school board leadership when she was first elected, and that relationship had deteriorated outside of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
"I'm not sure that legalese can solve that problem," Allen said.
And board Chairman David Crandall suggested Utah's education governance is better managed through local legislation or a popular vote, rather than forced on the state from Washington, D.C.
"I can't support going through the federal Congress to change education law," Crandall said.
After the vote, Pyfer acknowledged the rewrite of ESEA and No Child Left Behind is a moving target, but said the governor's office would continue to push for strengthened relationships with or without the board.
"Whatever those amendments end up being, we support a better collaboration between the governors and the states," Pyfer said.