A portion of a Wisconsin state law that gives the governor the power to approve or block new education rules and policies is unconstitutional, a state judge has ruled, although Gov. Scott Walker’s administration is vowing to appeal the ruling.
Dane County Circuit Judge Amy Smith said last week that the statutes give the governor more power over schools than the superintendent of public instruction, a violation of the state’s constitution. The ruling restores Superintendent Tony Evers’ ability to design policies affecting everything from teacher-licensing requirements to voucher programs without going through the Republican governor’s office.
It also marks another legal setback for Gov. Walker and Republican legislators. Two other Madison judges already have blocked a GOP-authored law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, and a third overturned a major chunk of the governor’s signature legislation stripping most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights.
The governor’s office is appealing all those decisions, and Gov. Walker’s spokesman Cullen Werwie promised the administration would appeal the latest ruling as well. “We’re confident we’ll win on appeal,” Mr. Werwie said.
Mr. Evers, meanwhile, issued a terse statement saying he was pleased with the judge’s finding.
“I have been consistent in my opposition to this legislation on constitutional grounds. ... My concerns are validated by this ruling,” he said.
The dispute centers on statutes Republican lawmakers passed in May 2011 that require state agencies to get gubernatorial approval before they can proceed with drafting new administrative rules. Gov. Walker said the changes would provide a greater check on agency rules that go too far.
Opponents decried the law as a naked power grab. The presidents of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers’ union, and Madison Teachers Inc., the union that represents Madison teachers, and a number of parents filed a lawsuit a little more than a year ago alleging the law can’t apply to the department of education.
A version of this article appeared in the November 07, 2012 edition of Education Week as Wis. Court Ruling Clips Gov.'s Wings