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North Dakota Legislature eyes education overhaul

BISMARCK - North Dakota lawmakers have created a proposal that would overhaul the state's education system. House Concurrent Resolution 3046 calls for creating a state Department of Education starting Jan.

BISMARCK - North Dakota lawmakers have created a proposal that would overhaul the state's education system.

House Concurrent Resolution 3046 calls for creating a state Department of Education starting Jan. 1, 2015, that would oversee and administer all public education.

This would put early childhood, elementary, high school and higher education under one umbrella.

Some legislators want to see the matter put to a public vote on the 2012 ballot.

If approved, it would mean the end of the state Board of Higher Education as it is now and end the public election of the superintendent of public instruction.


The governor would appoint the proposed department's director, who would serve as CEO. The appointment would be for three years and could be renewed.

The director would need a doctoral degree and be familiar with a broad spectrum of educational delivery and administration. The resolution states that the director would also need to be committed to a system that provides opportunities for students to meet the educational and work-force challenges of today and the future.

The proposal includes creating an 11-member educational council. Each member would be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of legislative leadership.

Council members would provide advice and guidance to the Department of Education director on issues such as academic standards, accountability, budgetary and financial matters, managerial and operational matters, and regulatory and legislative matters.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo is the prime sponsor of the proposal. He said the state is working from an old model for how it funds education, runs education and what it expects for educational results.

Pointing to the growth of remedial programs and what he sees as a large bureaucracy in place now, Carlson said he thinks there needs to be a different direction.

"Is it a giant leap? Yes. Do kingdoms not want to be torn down? Yes," Carlson said.

But he thinks it's a worthy discussion of the future of education and whether the state is "getting the best bang for our buck."


The North Dakota University System did not offer immediate comment on the proposal. Spokeswoman Debra Anderson said the state Board of Higher Education will discuss it at its meeting Tuesday.

Wayne Sanstead, superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction, said he wasn't surprised by the legislative proposal.

"They're moving more and more to put the Legislature in charge, and higher education is clearly the target," he said.

Sanstead said he sees "all kinds of flaws" in the proposal. North Dakotans like to have elected officials held accountable to them, he said. An elected education official can advocate independently of the governor's office as opposed to an appointee, he said.

"It clearly weakens, in my view, the role of responsibility and accountability to the citizenry," Sanstead said.

House Education Chairwoman Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, said the proposal may not be the right avenue. It may be worthwhile to instead do a study, she said.

But Kelsch, a co-sponsor of the proposal, said it's at least something to open the dialogue.

"My concern has been all along that we continue to have these silos between K-12 and higher ed," she said. "If we really want to have a seamless education, somehow we have to get rid of the silo mentality."


Kelsch said she's looking forward to the proposal's hearing, which has not yet been set.

"It's one of those bills that perhaps there will be criticisms," she said. "However, I do think that we need to discontinue the blame game and try to figure out how we can put together the best educational system possible in the state."

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.

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