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Staff blog: House supports public vote on state's education system; bill would mean end of state Board of Higher Education

UPDATED 3:25 p.m. BISMARCK--North Dakota voters should be able to decide if major changes are needed to the state's education system, the state House decided today.

UPDATED 3:25 p.m. BISMARCK--North Dakota voters should be able to decide if major changes are needed to the state's education system, the state House decided today.

On a 52-40 vote, the House approved House Concurrent Resolution 3046. The resolution calls for creating a state Department of Education that would oversee and administer all public education in the state.

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

Legislators want to see the matter put to a public vote on the November 2012 ballot.

Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, gave a list of reasons for why legislators should defeat the proposal. Early childhood, K-12 and higher education have different concerns and should not be lumped together, he said.

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The resolution gives the Legislature too much power to control higher education and concentrates power in too few hands, he said.

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

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

The proposal is a response to gripes about how much money higher education spends, but legislators approve higher education's funding, Glassheim said.

"Look in the mirror if you want someone to blame," he told House members during his floor speech.

The legislative committee assigned to higher education in the interim had an opportunity to propose substantial changes and didn't, he said. He called the resolution a "hostile takeover."

"It's certainly not an example of a small government so many of you have talked about this session," he said.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo, who submitted the proposal, disagreed it was a hostile takeover.

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"This is about the governance of education and about the next 20 years, not the last 20 years," he said.

North Dakotans should be able to decide if their taxpayer money for education is being spent well or if a change is needed, Carlson said. The resolution is about creating a better model for the future, not about being mad at the state Board of Higher Education or local school boards, he said.

"To say that this is a hostile takeover, that this is micromanagement is not the intention of this bill," Carlson said. "This is about a better education for our kids and a more responsive education to the people that pay for it."

Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, said the only idea brought forward by higher education in the interim was a request for more money. The education system in the country is in trouble, and something needs to change, he said.

"We can't do things the same old way and expect different results," he said.

Both Superintendent of Public Instruction Wayne Sanstead and Chancellor Bill Goetz have come out against the proposal.

Sanstead has called the proposal an overreach by the Legislature and believes the superintendent should be directly elected by the people and "protected from undue political influence."

Goetz has said the University System provided "volumes of information" to legislators during the interim to address policy changes.

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The resolution will now go to the Senate for review and final determination of whether the matter should go to a public vote. The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. CT Monday in the Senate Education Committee.

You can read the entire resolution here.

Vote breakdown:

Yeas: 52

Anderson, Beadle, Bellew, Belter, Boehning, Brabandt, Brandenburg, Carlson, Clark, Damschen, DeKrey, Delzer, Devlin, Dosch, Froseth, Grande, Hatlestad, Headland, Heller, Karls, Kasper, Keiser, Klein, Klemin, Koppelman, Kreidt, L. Meier, Louser, Maragos, Martinson, Nathe, Owens, Paur, Pietsch, Pollert, Porter, R. Kelsch, Rohr, Ruby, Schatz, Schmidt, Skarphol, Steiner, Streyle, Sukut, Thoreson, Trottier, Vigesaa, Weiler, Weisz, Wieland, Drovdal

Nays: 40

Amerman, Boe, Conklin, D. Johnson, Dahl, Delmore, Frantsvog, Glassheim, Gruchalla, Guggisberg, Hanson, Hawken, Heilman, Hofstad, Hogan, Holman, Hunskor, J. Kelsh, J. Nelson, Kaldor, Kilichowski, Kingsbury, Kretschmar, Kreun, Kroeber, M. Nelson, Metcalf, Mock, Monson, Mueller, N. Johnson, Onstad, Rust, S. Kelsh, S. Meyer, Sanford, Wall, Williams, Winrich, Zaiser

Absent and Not Voting: 2

Kempenich, Wrangham

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