SANTA FE – A proposed constitutional amendment to shift control of the Public Education Department from the Governor’s Office to a new, elected 10-member state education board advanced Friday after being approved by the Senate Rules Committee in a party-line vote.
The nonpartisan state school board proposed in Senate Joint Resolution 2 would be charged with hiring and evaluating a state schools superintendent, eliminating the current system, in which the governor appoints a Cabinet secretary to head the Public Education Department.
The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, now heads to the Senate Education Committee after passing the Rules Committee 6-4, with the committee’s Republican members voting against the proposal.
If passed by both chambers in the Legislature, the proposed constitutional amendment would go to voters in November to be ratified.
The elected state school board established under the proposed amendment resembles the education system oversight board New Mexico had in place through 2003, when the state adopted a constitutional amendment, backed by then-Gov. Bill Richardson, to give the governor exclusive authority to hire the state’s public schools chief.
The effort to take the Public Education Department reins out of the hands of the governor comes as Democratic lawmakers have voiced criticism of Gov. Susana Martinez’s pick for education secretary, Hanna Skandera. Appointed in 2011, Skandera has not received a confirmation vote in the Senate Rules Committee.
Padilla said the attempt to shift control of the schools to the Governor’s Office didn’t work and should be turned back.
“I just don’t believe this is working out for us here at the moment, which is why I chose to bring this legislation,” Padilla said.
He said the proposal would reduce political influence on the state’s education system and smooth transitions between gubernatorial administrations.
But Republicans on the Senate Rules Committee charged that the proposal to go back to an elected state education board is a political gimmick.
Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, said critics of the governor’s education initiatives are missing the mark by attempting to oust Skandera through a constitutional amendment.
“Ultimately, it’s the governor of this state that sets education policy. The secretary of education is charged with implementing that policy,” Rue said. “The good news for everyone in this room is if you want to change things, you’ve got an election (for governor) in November.”