OKLAHOMA CITY — An Enid lawmaker is proposing a ballot measure that would allow the governor, rather than voters, to select the state superintendent of public instruction.
State Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid, said he doesn’t know how receptive voters would be to changing the current format, which would require voter approval because it’s enshrined in the state constitution. But, Caldwell said he filed House Joint Resolution 1030 to give Oklahomans a chance to “either affirm their previous stance or change the way we handle this position.”
Caldwell said in an email that he decided to file the legislation after hearing feedback during the last election that the position of state superintendent should “be less political.”
“If we really want the position to be less political, the best way to accomplish that is to make the position appointed,” he said. “The majority of states appoint their top education official rather than elect them, and obviously these types of positions are all appointed on the federal level, so this is very common across the country.”
He said it makes sense to grant Oklahoma’s governor the authority to find individuals that align with their vision to carry out the priorities of their administration.
Not everyone is on board with the proposal.
“I think this is ridiculous,” said Erika Wright, founder of the Oklahoma Rural Schools Coalition, of Caldwell’s bill. “We should be doing everything we can to allow people to have a greater voice instead of going backwards in that area.”
Wright said Oklahomans already can’t vote on who serves on their state Board of Education, so the bill would completely eliminate the public’s ability to elect any of the state officials tasked with governing public schools. Oklahomans would only be able to elect the governor.
She said other states have state superintendents that are appointed, but most have an elected state school board that has the ability to hire and fire their superintendent.
“To make a move to push Oklahoma to a completely appointed public education system governance is ludicrous. It’s absolutely ludicrous that we’re even having this conversation right now,” Wright said. “People need to be able to hold someone accountable for their inability to do their job, and that’s what happens with elections.”
Oklahoma is one of nine states that allows voters to elect the state superintendent and its governor to appoint the members of the state board of education, according to an analysis from the Education Commission of the States.
Fourteen states — including Missouri and Arkansas — allow their governor to appoint the state board members. Those board members then hire the superintendent, the group said.
Eleven states, including Pennsylvania and Tennessee, allow the governor to appoint both the state board of education members and the state superintendent, according to the group.
Seven states, including Colorado and Kansas, elect the state board of education members, and then task that board with appointing the superintendent, the group said.
The remaining nine states, including Texas and New Mexico, have “modified versions” of the other states’ laws, the group said. Texas, for instance, elects the state board of education members, but the governor hires the superintendent. New Mexico has an elected body that serves in an advisory role.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.