I love people who claim that they want to use the political process to “take politics out of X.” The latest argument in this vein was made in the Albuquerque Journal by some former chairmen of New Mexico’s State Board of Education in support of a Constitutional Amendment, SJR 2, that would strip the Secretary of Education of her power and reinstate an elected board as the primary education policy making body.
Reasonable people can disagree on the benefits of boards vs. appointees in managing education policy, but it is patently false to say that one is more “political” than the other. In fact, nothing could be more political than an elected body, using tax dollars, to make decisions affecting all of our children’ educations and 45% of the General Fund budget.
In fact, it would appear that, despite claims to the contrary, this is nothing more than a case of “sour grapes” as the move to an appointed secretary was done under Democrat Bill Richardson, but never became political until a reform-minded Gov. and Secretary showed up and tried to change the status quo.
Worse, New Mexico already suffers from having too many boards and commissions, both elected and unelected, that are seemingly accountable to no one. While an elected board is theoretically accountable to the population as a whole, what happens in reality is extremely low turnout elections or races way down the ballot where average citizens either don’t vote or don’t know what is going on and in which interested groups (like the unions) control the outcome.
Certainly, Gov. Martinez is in charge of a lot more than education policy and people will vote for or against her in November for a variety of reasons, but she ran on education reform, she has spent the last four years working to implement those reforms, and if the voters oppose those reforms, they can vote against her in the fall. On this issue, the status quo of an appointed education secretary actually makes sense and is more likely to lead to real reforms to our education system no matter which party holds the Governor’s office.