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North Dakota education overhaul bill fails in Senate

BISMARCK - The state Senate killed a proposal that would have allowed North Dakota voters to decide if the state's education system needs an overhaul.

BISMARCK - The state Senate killed a proposal that would have allowed North Dakota voters to decide if the state's education system needs an overhaul.

Senators defeated the resolution on a 7-40 vote on Wednesday with no discussion.

House Concurrent Resolution 3046 called for creating a state Department of Education that would oversee and administer all public education in the state. Legislators wanted it put to a public vote on the November 2012 ballot.

If approved, the proposal meant the end of the state Board of Higher Education and the public election of the superintendent of public instruction.

The governor would have appointed the proposed department's director and an 11-member educational council. The appointments would have been subject to legislative approval.


The House approved putting the proposal to a vote of the people on a 52-40 vote.

Education officials came out in strong opposition to the resolution, which was proposed by House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo.

Sen. Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, who explained the proposal to the Senate, was the only person to speak on the topic. Going through the resolution, she explained the numerous concerns of the Senate Education Committee.

Communities pride themselves on local control of their school boards and the right to elect a statewide official who oversees K-12 education, which the proposal eliminates, she said.

There were also concerns about the continuity of the education system since the appointed director would serve a three-year term that could be renewed. Over a span of three governors, the proposed Education Department could have four directors, Heckaman said.

The committee also thought the process of selecting members for the educational council was weaker than the current process for selecting members of the state Board of Higher Education, she said.

The committee didn't hear testimony about how the proposal would be positive for higher education in the state, Heckaman said.

There was also no discussion of how the state would transition to a new system and what would happen to the current staff at the Department of Public Instruction and the University System, she said.


The committee received charts showing spending on education in the state has risen no faster than other agency budgets, she said.

"So if this is about money, this resolution provides no answers for us to consider," Heckaman said.

The financial impact of the proposal is unknown, as are any improved outcomes, she said. While higher education has been under scrutiny, no one can deny the state's college graduates are in demand, she said.

"We must be doing something right," Heckaman said.

Carlson, who knew the proposal would have a tougher hurdle in the Senate, has said the resolution was about looking to the future of education in the state.

He pointed to the increased spending on education and whether North Dakotans were getting the best results for their taxpayer money.

Student test scores are flat, property taxes continue to climb, tuition and fees are soaring, and students are not graduating with skills desired by employers, he said.

After Wednesday's vote, Carlson said the Senate doesn't have an appetite for change.


"They missed a golden opportunity to change the face of education over the next 20 years," he said.

Senate vote breakdown

Yeas: 7

Andrist, Christmann, Dever, Klein, Larsen, Sitte, Stenehjem

Nays: 40

Berry, Bowman, Burckhard, Cook, Dotzenrod, Erbele, Fischer, Flakoll, Freborg, G. Lee, Grindberg, Heckaman, Hogue, Holmberg, J. Lee, Kilzer, Krebsbach, Laffen, Luick, Lyson, Marcellais, Mathern, Miller, Murphy, Nelson, Nething, Nodland, O'Connell, Oehlke, Olafson, Robinson, Schaible, Schneider, Sorvaag, Taylor, Triplett, Uglem, Wanzek, Wardner, Warner

Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.

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