(KUTV) — Before 2016, Lisa Cummins was a Herriman mom who often testified at Utah State Board of Education meetings to voice her concerns about education in Utah.
Among those concerns: whether science education included “both sides” of the theory of evolution, whether digital devices were mining and storing her children’s personal information for a vast government database, and other inquiries surrounding the idea of federal intrusion into K-12 education.
But in 2016 she joined the state school board as a member, and since then, those views have morphed into votes. In the last two years, Cummins disapproved of a program culminating in a field trip for rural kids to see the musical “Hamilton" because she said Alexander Hamilton was a proponent of big government.
She argued that the state should reject hundreds of millions of dollars in Title 1 funding because, she once suggested, federally mandated tests are what’s causing teen suicide. And those are just two examples.
Last legislative session, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle introduced a constitutional amendment that would have gotten rid of the school board altogether, in favor of a system in which the governor appoints a panel of experts to oversee K-12 education, much like how higher education is guided by a Board of Regents.
Rep. Dan McCay (R-Riverton) was one sponsor of the legislation. He thinks voters are much more engaged in the process of learning about candidates for larger statewide seats for the Senate and House than they are for positions like the state school board.
“When I ask people who their state school board member is, I don’t have anybody, ever.that knows who their state board member is,” McCay says.
In the voting booth, he says, it comes down to a coin flip.
McCay thinks his suggestion is better.
“Instead of ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’ being the selection process for our state school board,” McCay told Beyond the Books’ Chris Jones, “we thought maybe selecting based on credentials and based on experience would be a valuable way to do it.”
During the last legislative session, two sitting state school board members told McCay that a governor-appointed board would be an improvement, he said.
“'Please make this change,'” McCay recalled the board members telling him. “[They said,] ‘We are not getting done what needs to be done for the children in the state of Utah,’ and to me, that was the number one concern that we need to solve, so our system can work for our kids.”
The constitutional amendment proposed by McCay and sponsored by Senator Jim Dabakis (D-Salt Lake City) ultimately failed to make the upcoming November ballot. McCay said he plans to resurrect the idea, and get it in front of voters for 2020.