SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Utah's governor is joining a chorus of voices arguing for change in the way top education leaders are selected in Utah.
The topic has been top of mind after a series of recent controversies surrounding an outspoken new member of the Utah State Board of Education.
Utah went to the partisan system last year, meaning now all candidates on the ballot have to declare a political party. Former school board members told Beyond the Books they're concerned the new model is leading to division and extremism in an area where they say those things don't belong.
Gov. Spencer Cox has a different idea for school board elections, and he's in good company.
The governor noted most states in the U.S. do not have school board candidates declare a political party — in fact, only six states, including Utah, rely on partisan school board elections. In most states — 33 of them — the governor and Legislatures play a role in selecting who will serve.
There is a reason that almost every state does it that way," Cox said.
Utah went to the partisan system last year, meaning now all candidates on the ballot have to declare a political party. Then, Utahns vote on who represents them.
Not being able to appoint a board member, Cox said, takes accountability away from his office.
"Every governor runs to be the 'education governor,' to work on education issues," Cox said. "The truth is the governor (of Utah) probably has less direct impact on K-12 education than any governor in the nation."
An appointed state school board might reduce the number of hyper-partisan candidates, Cox said.
A recent example is Natalie Cline, who since she was elected in November has generated a slew of outrage over comments critical of training meant to help educators better understand LGBTQ+ and Black students. One of her more recent comments led to threats against a teacher, whom she accused of teaching the virtues of communism.
The governor said most people vote based on political party and may not take candidates' individual views into account.
"I’ll be honest, I'll often ask legislators, and they don't know who their state school board member is," Cox said.
It would take a change to the Utah constitution to alter the way state school board members are selected, and Cox said that change could reduce extreme views on the board.
I would like to take that out, as much as possible, and make it about our kids and our families instead of some hyper-partisan ideology," Cox said.
There are times when the governor can select a school board member, when a seat is vacated before that member's term is up. In fact, Cox will soon appoint a new member to the board after he selected current member Brittney Cummings to be his education adviser.
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