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Political roundup: How relevant is the elected Michigan Board of Education?

Don Harder
Some state legislators want to eliminate the Michigan Board of Education.

?Some members of the Legislature want to eliminate the elected Michigan Board of Education. They say the Board of Education has become little more than a debating society. But, if it’s so irrelevant, one has to wonder why those legislators get so worked up about the education board’s actions.

Ken Sikkema, senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants and the former Republican majority leader in the state Senate, along with Vicki Barnett, the former mayor of Farmington Hills and a former Democratic legislator, joined Stateside to discuss the Board of Education.

“The theory was, if you read the constitution, that they were going to be in charge of education policy in Michigan, but over time their authority has been largely eroded,” said Sikkema. “They’ve become less and less significant and relevant in terms of education policy.”

Barnett thinks the state legislature is to blame. “There has been so much tinkering by the legislature into education policy without a full understanding of what the ramifications of what those bills and their outcomes would mean for children.” The Legislature, she says, has changed education policy to defund public schools while boosting funding for charter schools, and has blamed the system’s failures on the Board.

Sikkema thinks the problem is more systemic. “There’s just a disconnect between the theory, the original theory, that by having a state Board of Education you’re going to take politics out of education policy, and the reality,” he said. The reality, Sikkema said, is that Board members are on the ballot, and their partisan affiliations, rather than their ideas, guide voters’ decisions.

Barnett disagrees: “People have an obligation to research who they’re voting for,” she said. “And to blame the Board of Education for the fact that some people claim ‘nobody knows who they are’ is absolutely ridiculous.” As for the inclusion of politics in the education policy realm, Barnett said the original sin is involving the Legislature in the first place, a problem with the Board of Education can solve. “I think having term-limited legislators stay out of the business of educating our children probably makes the most sense,” she said.

Ultimately, Barnett said, the question is how to improve education for Michigan students. “We have a real problem, and blaming the state Board of Ed., which is elected to solve these problems is not going to solve them at all.”

Listen above for the full conversation.

Ken Sikkema and Vicki Barnett join Stateside every Friday to break down the week’s political news.

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