HB337: Don’t Let the Governor Get His Hands in Education

HB 337 supposedly tries to create a way for parents to be heard through an Education Ombudsman — but that won’t happen because the ombudsman would be under the Governor. Governor Cox has been very clear about wanting to “define” parents’ role as being just one of many “stakeholders” in education.

See the email below from Governor Cox’s senior advisor on Equity and Opportunity to members of the USBE’s staff and ACEESS committee:

Parents are more than one among many “different entities in public education.” We parents are the primary stakeholders in every aspect of our kids’ lives, including education.

Parents don’t have “roles,” they have rights, and they aren’t Cox’s to decide.

If the Education Ombudsman being under Cox’s oversight isn’t reason enough to make you think twice on this bill, consider the following list of drawbacks to the bill’s provisions:

HB337 creates multiple issues of bipartisan concern:

  • The Education Ombudsman is subject to the supervision of the Governor, who has no state constitutional authority over education. (Article X, Utah State Constitution)
  • Constitutionally and statutorily, the Legislature has directed the general control and supervision of the public school system to the state Board. Creating the Education Ombudsman in the office of the Governor (line 119) creates a jurisdictional conflict and the potential politicization of the ombudsman position.
  • Parents, who already have statutory recognition of their inalienable rights (Utah State Codes 53E-2-201, 62A-4(a)-201, 53E-2-301(3), et al.), will have the parameters of their educational involvement defined and arbitrated by the Education Ombudsman and, by extension, the office of the Governor, for whom there is no legal precedent of governance over educational issues or parental rights. (Lines 163-169)
  • Lines 120-122 call for the appointment of an individual with background and expertise in federal and state law in education. This sole qualification does not guarantee the involved parties in a dispute an impartial arbitration, and is more likely to result in an appointee with existing loyalties and personal connections to the educational establishment.
  • The selection of an ombudsman in educational matters solely by political appointees is a concern, especially as this process circumvents democratic representation of parental interests.
  • The ombudsman’s authority and capacity to “facilitate the resolution” of complaints is legally ambiguous, pertaining to parents particularly, for whom there exists no codified legal recourse or protections for a redress of grievances in educational matters short of filing suit. Another larger concern here is that the ombudsman’s determination may be considered to carry disproportionate evidentiary weight should a dispute be litigated. (Lines 178-182)

If the intent of this bill is to provide parents the advocacy that they’ve been historically denied through the public school system, then the provisions of the bill are inadequate to that purpose. 

Should this bill pass, parents would find their “role” relegated to just another “stakeholder” in the educational system, rather than as the preeminent arbiters and presiding authorities in all matters pertaining to their children, including education.