A letter on governance from the State Board Chair

Dear Governor Herbert and Members of the Utah Legislature,

Over the past two years the State Board of Education has worked to improve our relationship with the legislature.  For the first time, in recent years, we chose to send the governor and legislature realistic budgets, based on projected revenue.  We have invited legislators to visit with us about their legislation, and as a result of those visits, we have worked with and supported much of that legislation.  We chose to build bridges and relationships with you.  For two years, you responded to that bridge building and we created partnerships for the good of Utah Public Education and the good of the children of this state.  This year, we have been disconcerted that that seems to have changed.

We are on the threshold of one of the largest changes in public education ever.  Over the past two years, the State Board has created a long-term vision and mission for public education.  Despite the challenges in funding education, educators throughout the state have responded positively to steps by the Board, with a commitment to Utah students to ensure that they will become college and career ready. 

  • The State Board is better aligned now than it has ever been with higher education, both with traditional institutions and the Utah College of Applied Technology (UCAT). 
  • The Board invited UCAT to join the public education/higher education K-16 Alliance.
  • We are aligning our data systems with higher education and are in the process of aligning our curriculum and our pathways to serve the students of this state efficiently and appropriately. 
  • According to the US Chamber of Commerce, we provide the best value in education per dollar spent nationally by a huge margin. 
  • There are many other areas where we lead the nation, including dual immersion studies and technology in the classroom. 
  • An analysis of the 2010 ACT/SAT scaled scores indicates that Utah is ranked 10th nationally in college and career readiness.

Amidst all of this work and progress by the State Board, local boards and educators, comes SJR 9.  The State Board adamantly opposes this change in governance for these reasons:

1)      SJR 9 takes away the people’s voice on educational issues.  Members of the public will no longer have someone they can call who is directly answerable to them.  The Governor cannot fill that role due to time and accessibility constraints.  We believe the public is better served by a locally elected body focused solely on education issues.  

2)      The public does not want a change in governance, as evidenced by a recent Dan Jones Poll.

3)      The Utah and Federal Constitutions were built upon the premise of diffusion of power.  The framers recognized that a centralized government was (a) not answerable to the people, and (b) subject to abuse by the corrosive powers of the state apparatus; hence, the doctrine of separation of powers.  Utah’s founders knew that vesting all of the executive powers in the governor would completely centralize executive powers.  Instead, the executive powers were split between five constitutional officers:  Governor, Attorney General, State Auditor, State Treasurer, and State Board of Education.  SJR 9 seeks to abandon the Constitutional principle of separation of powers and diffusion of powers, and instead, establishes a more centralized government, similar to that seen in socialized systems.

4)      The State Board and legislature have forged an effective partnership for public education.   We believe that now is the time to work even harder to strengthen that partnership. 

5)      Passing SJR 9 sets the stage for another voucher-style fight through the next two years leading up to the 2012 election, distracting from the efforts of all of us within the public education arena to improve education.

6)      The governor has publicly stated that the governance system is not broken.  In fact, he recently told the media that the governance structure was working well.  Hence, SJR 9 is a remedy in search of a problem.

7)      The assertion has been made that test scores are better in states with the governor in charge of education.  First, we would contend the causality link.  Second, if you want to believe there is some kind of link, then we believe the most important measure of student achievement is whether or not students are college and career ready.  Attached you will see data showing the ACT/SAT scaled score listings sorted by the kind of governance system in place.  This shows that students achieve higher levels of college and career readiness in a governance model with an elected State Board.

The arguments raised for SJR 9 have been: (1)  the Governor cannot get his education message out because he is not in charge of public education, (2) there is more efficiency in having a centralized authority over education, and (3) this will stop higher education and public education from warring over funding and create a “seamless” education system. 

Our responses are:  (1) the Governor has the bully pulpit and has historically gotten his message out.  Most recently, through his powers, he has convened the Excellence in Education Commission.  (2)  A centralized authority may be more efficient, but it is not more responsive to the citizens of the state.  (3)  This seems to argue that because the State Board was treated better by the legislature than the State Board of Regents, the two systems should be combined to even out any inequity.  Does this mean that SJR 9 seeks to decrease public education funding?  As for the “seamless” system, the K-16 alliance has been the mechanism for that, and would remain so even with this change.

The State Board of Education respectfully requests that the members of the Utah House of Representatives honor the work of the Utah State Board of Education to improve education and to develop partnerships for the good of our Utah children, honor the concept of local control, and reject SJR 9.  Please do not silence the independent voice of public education.

Thank you,

The Utah State Board of Education

Debra Roberts    


Dixie Allen

Vice Chair

Members:  Tami Pyfer, Keith Buswell, Craig Coleman, Dave Thomas, Kim Burningham, Michael Jensen, Leslie Castle, Janet Cannon, Joel Coleman, Laurel Brown, Dave Crandall, Carol Murphy, Mark Openshaw

Here is a copy of the Statistical Analysis – Top Education Governance Model mentioned in the letter:

Statistical Analysis – Comparison of the four primary public education governance models


                                                                        2010 ACT/SAT Scaled Scores    Rank

Model I

Governor appoints state board,

board appoints/selects chief

state school officer

12 states

Alaska                                                                         2027                                        #39

Arkansas                                                                     2094                                        #22

Connecticut                                                                 2121                                        #15

Florida                                                                         1924                                        #50

Illinois                                                                          2163                                        #9

Kentucky                                                                     2076                                        #26

Maryland                                                                     2049                                        #36

Massachusetts                                                            2148                                        #11

Missouri                                                                       2202                                        #7

Rhode Island                                                               2051                                        #35

Vermont                                                                      2118                                        #16

West Virginia                                                               2000                                        #45

Average Scores                                                          2081                                        #26

Model II

Elected state board, board

appoints chief state school


8 states

Alabama                                                                      2068                                        #27

Colorado                                                                     2114                                        #18

Hawaii                                                                         2002                                        #44

Kansas                                                                        2215                                        #5

Michigan                                                                     2128                                        #13

Nebraska                                                                    2212                                        #6

Nevada                                                                       2007                                        #43

Utah                                                                            2149                                        #10

Average Scores                                                        2112                                        #21



Model III

Governor appoints state

board, independently elected

chief state school officer

11 states

Arizona                                                                        1994                                        #46

California                                                                     2055                                        #34

Georgia                                                                       1956                                        #48

Idaho                                                                           2106                                        #21

Indiana*                                                                       2041                                        #37

Montana                                                                      2106                                        #20

North Carolina                                                             2034                                        #38

North Dakota                                                              2184                                        #8

Oklahoma*                                                                  2115                                        #17

Oregon                                                                        2057                                        #32

Wyoming                                                                     2087                                        #23

* chief state school officer also serves

as chair of state board

Average Scores                                                          2067                                        #29

Model IV

Governor appoints state

board and chief state

school officer

9 states

Delaware                                                                     2058                                        #31

Iowa                                                                            2254                                        #2

Maine                                                                          2013                                        #42

New Hampshire                                                          2142                                        #12

New Jersey                                                                 2087                                        #24

Pennsylvania                                                              2019                                        #40

South Dakota                                                              2217                                        #4

Tennessee                                                                  2081                                        #25

Virginia                                                                        2066                                        #28

Average Score                                                            2104                                        #23

Sources:  2010 ACT State Report Cards; 2010 SAT State Report Cards; NASBE (National Association of State Boards of Education) website

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2 comments to A letter on governance from the State Board Chair

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by utahpolitics and UT Public Education, UT Public Education. UT Public Education said: Read USBE Chair Debra Roberts' letter to legislators and the governor about SJR 9.Working link! http://bit.ly/e19kVk #uted #utleg #utpol […]

  • Russ Price

    The lack of other comments here indicts not the system, but the populace. It is disheartening to see the electorate’s apathy on this and so many other issues that impact our lives and our children’s future. It should bother all of us that so much of Utah’s agenda is set behind closed doors. Focusing power in State legislatures is exactly what created the need to move beyond the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution. I salute the Board for standing up to the bullying, and wish that others would let their voices be heard. The legislative effort to concentrate power under the Governor’s Office is not good policy for Utah. We should stand with the Board on this issue.