The Maryland Senate will decide next week whether it should have a say in who is chosen as the next state superintendent of schools.
The Senate was scheduled on Friday to vote on a bill that would change the selection process of the state superintendent. Instead, it delayed action after questions were raised about whether the Senate has the legal authority to confirm the head of the state’s school system.
The Senate plans to ask for an opinion from the state Attorney General’s office on whether the legislation infringes on separation of powers. The bill is scheduled to be taken up on Tuesday.
The decision to delay the vote came after a lengthy debate about why Democratic legislative leaders were trying to change a system that has been in place for 100 years. Under the current process, the Senate confirms the members of the state Board of Education, who are appointed by the governor. The board then makes the selection of the school superintendent.
“It’s not broken,” said Sen. George C. Edwards (R-Washington), noting that there have only been seven superintendents in the past century. “I think it’s worked over the last 100 years.”
Republican senators repeatedly asked why the Senate wanted to change the process now.
Some see it as a power grab by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), the bill sponsor, said the measure is designed to provide oversight.
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R), called the argument “utter rubbish.”
“This bill would radically change 100 years of progressive policy, and add a duplicative and unnecessary political layer to what is already a well-functioning process,” Mayer said. “In terms of policy, process, and politics, this is a flawed and poorly considered piece of legislation that would endanger the very nature of the state’s educational system.”
But Sen. William C. Ferguson (D-Baltimore) said the policy-making power that the state superintendent has is “enormous.” Those powers will only increase, he said, under the new federal law that gives state’s more authority over education policy.
“It makes absolute rational sense to do this now,” Ferguson said.
The state Board of Education plans to name a new superintendent later this year. The current position is held by Interim Superintendent Jack Smith, who took over when Lillian Lowery resigned in September. He was recently chosen as the new Montgomery County superintendent.
Hogan has pushed some education policies that have not been received well by the Democratic-controlled legislature, including a measure last year to give charter schools greater authority and a proposal this year to provide tax credits to businesses that donate to schools. The tax credit is expected to help non-public schools more than public schools.