Quest for Seamless System Leads Governors to Seek New Education Authority

By Michele McNeil — July 17, 2007 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The nation’s governors, who typically have focused more on their K-12 public schools than on higher education, are stepping up efforts to increase control over their colleges and universities in hopes of turning two disconnected education silos into one seamless system.

Faced with mounting pressure to turn out well-qualified high school graduates, boost college success rates, and better prepare citizens for new-economy jobs, a number of governors have put their stamp on oversight boards, seeking to determine who hires and fires the top state higher education official and aiming to hold the entire system more accountable.

In Utah, for example, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, in May made the rare move of giving district superintendents seats—and voting rights—on the governing boards of their local colleges.

And in Ohio, Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, persuaded legislators this year to give the governor the authority to appoint the chancellor for the Ohio board of regents, which oversees the higher education system. Before the change, the regents made the pick.

“This ability gives me more authority, and it gives me more responsibility,” Gov. Strickland said in a recent interview. “We are in the process now of bringing about greater cooperation and collaboration.”

Governors, including Washington state’s Christine Gregoire, continue meanwhile to create so-called P-16 or P-20 councils. Such panels are designed to better align public education from prekindergarten through college or graduate school.

Movement Widespread

Governors’ wanting—and often getting—more control over precollegiate and higher education has been a prominent policy theme over the past decade. (“Activists Slam Mayoral Control,” June 21, 2006.)

Recent moves by governors have sought to accelerate that trend, though the reception for such proposals has varied.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
(R) UTAH. Appointed six school district superintendents to serve as voting members of the governing boards of their local colleges and universities in an effort to streamline students’ progression from kindergarten to college, and to broaden the perspectives of K-12 and college officials.

Gov. Christine Gregoire
(D) WASHINGTON. Became one of the latest governors to form a P-20 council designed to better measure results and hold the public education system accountable, from prekindergarten through graduate school.

Gov. Deval Patrick
(D) Massachusetts. Set up task forces to study K-12 and higher education. He also wants to increase his control over the state board of education by adding more members.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer
(D) NEW YORK. Established a a new higher education commissionto help improve the quality of the state’s colleges and universities.

Gov. Ted Strickland
(D) Ohio. Persuaded the legislature this year to change the law so that the governor, and not the board of regents, hires the chancellor for the state’s higher education system. Said he hopes the move will provide more accountability, and offer a better link with K-12.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat elected last fall, appointed a special advisor on education, set up task forces to study the state’s K-12 and higher education systems, and is backing a plan to add more members to the state board of education, which would give him more control over precollegiate education.

Other legislatures and governors, in Indiana and South Carolina for example, have pushed to turn their elected state school superintendencies into positions appointed by the governor, but have been unsuccessful so far.

Still other governors have zeroed in on higher education. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, persuaded the legislature in 2005 to abolish the state’s higher education commission in favor of a Cabinet-level department and secretary of higher education under the governor’s control. In Tennessee, Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, has said that next year’s legislative focus will be on higher education.

In New York, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat who took office this year, issued an executive order in May creating a new higher education commission charged with improving the quality of the state’s colleges and universities.

“Education is the critical link in the innovation economy. Where we have seen success, it has been driven by education,” Gov. Spitzer said in a news conference.

It’s that link between education and the economy that has inspired a greater urgency among states and governors to do a better job of coordinating their K-12 and higher education systems, said Richard Novak, the executive director of the Center for Public Trusteeship and Governance at the Washington-based Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

“We’ve seen governors really exert their authority. There’s a new economy and more pressure to create new jobs,” he said.

The renewed focus on higher education is partly a function of the current fiscal climate. Earlier in the decade, when a sluggish economy led to intense budget pressures and program cuts in nearly every state, higher education funding often was flat or even was cut, leading to higher tuition, Mr. Novak said. Now, many states are flush with cash and can afford to start investing again in higher education.

Mr. Novak cautions state policymakers, however, against putting too much control of higher education in a governor’s hands. That’s a “dangerous idea,” he said.

“What happens when Governor Strickland leaves?” he said, pointing to the legislative change in Ohio that gave the governor the power to appoint the higher education chancellor. “You might have a situation that makes the direction of your higher education system more dependent on who’s in office. That has real risks.”

Changes Sought

But Gov. Strickland maintains that the real danger was in continuing the status quo. He points to average annual tuition increases of 9 percent over the past decade.

“That’s unacceptable,” he said. “We can’t continue as we are. It’s not working.”

He characterized Ohio’s higher education system as disconnected, one in which officials “see their primary goal as doing what’s best for [their particular] institution.” And, he said, the system has struggled to mesh with the K-12 system.

The governor said his administration wants to encourage the state schools superintendent to work more collaboratively with the higher education chancellor. The state also is working to encourage more early-college programs and a diverse set of post-high-school options so that all students will complete at least some form of college or postsecondary training.

The Ohio Constitution, like other state constitutions, requires the state to provide its citizens a public education—in Ohio’s case, the constitution refers to “common schools,” generally interpreted to mean K-12. But Gov. Strickland said he feels it’s his responsibility to deliver on that commitment from early education through college.

As for whether he would like the power to appoint the state’s precollegiate schools superintendent as well—a power that now rests with the state board of education—Gov. Strickland said he has broached the idea with legislators, but has been warned to stay away from that political fight.

He did say, however, that “the governor should have a greater, more direct authority when it comes to choice of superintendent.”

Varied Approaches

Other governors use their powers in different ways to attempt to address the lack of connections between precollegiate and higher education.

In Washington state, Gov. Gregoire created a 13-member P-20 council to evaluate public education from prekindergarten through graduate school and to hold schools at all levels accountable. At least 30 states have launched councils or initiatives to foster collaboration across the different levels of education, according to the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

Having already formed a K-16 Alliance in Utah, Gov. Huntsman in May appointed seven local school superintendents to the governing boards of their local community colleges or state university branches, with full voting rights. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington also was appointed, with full voting rights, to the state board of regents, which supervises Utah’s higher education system.

Putting district superintendents on college governing boards as full members is “pretty unusual,” said Mr. Novak, of the governing boards’ association. He said that at least a dozen states put state schools chiefs on such boards, usually in an advisory role.

Gov. Huntsman thought that adding the local district perspective was crucial to continuing to build a stronger alliance between the K-12 system and higher education, said Christine Kearl, his education deputy. She said the superintendents will be expected not only to bring the K-12 perspective to the table, but also to take back information from higher education officials to improve their districts’ schools.

For example, Ms. Kearl said, “the school districts need to hear from higher education that their students are unprepared [in certain subjects].”

“There had been something of a disconnect,” she said. “We want these to be strong connections.”

A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2007 edition of Education Week as Quest for Seamless System Leads Governors to Seek New Education Authority


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

States N.H. Teacher ‘Loyalty’ Law Could Expand to Include Race Debate
A Cold War-era law in New Hampshire targeting "teachers' loyalty" would be updated with today's hot button issues.
2 min read
Collage of an American Flag.
Collage: Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty)
States Pivoting to Remote Learning: Why It Is Harder in Some States Than Others
In calling the shots on the switch back to remote instruction, states have very different rules, an Education Week analysis finds.
8 min read
Macy Schulman, left, and Mason Yeoh, both students at Fairfield Warde High School, carry pro-remote learning signs during a rally of parents and students fighting to have an online option for school this year, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, in Fairfield, Conn.
Macy Schulman, left, and Mason Yeoh, both students at Fairfield Warde High School in Connecticut, carry pro-remote learning signs during a rally in August of parents and students fighting to have an online option for school this academic year.
Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP
States Ind. Teachers Push Back Against Bill That Would Let Parents Vet School Curricula
Sparking opposition from dozens of teachers, the legislation seeks to require all school curricula to be vetted by parent review committees.
4 min read
Rep. Vernon Smith, left, D-Gary, looks at his notes during the first day of the legislative session at the the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, in Indianapolis.
Rep. Vernon Smith, left, D-Gary, looks at his notes during the first day of the legislative session at the the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings/AP
States Ariz. Families Can Now Get Private School Vouchers If Their Schools Go Remote
Gov. Doug Ducey says he is taking "preemptive action" to keep students in classrooms despite rising hospitalizations as the Omicron variant spreads.
4 min read
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at a ceremony on Dec. 7, 2021, in Phoenix. Gov. Ducey on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, took what he called "preemptive action" to keep school public schools open and give students access to in-person instruction despite rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Arizona and nationwide as the more contagious omicron virus variant spreads.
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at a ceremony on Dec. 7, 2021, in Phoenix.
Ross D. Franklin/AP