Michigan voters don't know much about the candidates for state board of education

Aug 26, 2014

Okay, now, here’s a test: How many members of the state board of education can you name?  Don’t feel bad.

I can’t name them all either.

What’s more, many people don’t even realize we elect these folks, and the trustees who run our three major universities. This might not be a bad idea if the campaigns involved honest debates over education policy.

But that almost never happens.

Instead, we rely on the political parties to select nominees who will devote themselves to mastering the issues and helping run our educational institutions with integrity.

Usually who wins has nothing to do with the issues. Instead, it is determined by the top of the ticket.

Four years ago, when Rick Snyder was elected by a landslide, nearly all the GOP candidates for the education seats won.

When President Obama swept Michigan, the Democrats won.

That’s because few people pay attention to education nominees. Those who split their tickets and vote for individual offices frequently ignore these races, often on the grounds that they don’t know enough about the issues or the candidates.

But if you vote a straight ticket, you automatically vote for that party’s education candidates, whether you mean to or not.

The good news is this: Most of the time, those elected from either party do a superb job. Serving on one of these boards really is public service. You don’t get paid. You don’t get a lot of publicity.

You have to master a lot of material, and on the state board, your powers are mainly advisory. Yet we have citizens who are willing to do this.

Last weekend, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly was nominated for a seat on the Wayne State board. Not only has she been one of our top judges, she served on the state board of education before that.

Others who have served on these boards include Debbie Dingell, who is about to succeed her husband in Congress, and former Governor George Romney. Yet the state board of education is receiving some very different and unwanted publicity this week.

Republicans nominated Maria Carl, a longtime Macomb County activist. But another Republican, Leon Drolet, is charging her with making anti-Semitic statements at a Republican state convention 22 years ago.

Supposedly, she loudly urged delegates not to support a candidate for the U of M board, yelling “She’s a Jew!”

Carl denies this, though it has been written about more than once over the last two decades. It is certainly legitimate to consider whether this is true. What nobody has been asking is what Maria Carl would do if she was on the state education board.

So I went to her website, and discovered that she hates and apparently misunderstands the Common Core education standards, which she thinks mean federal control of education.

Carl also wants to restore the “great classics” to the classroom, and provide “character education focused on moral based choices.”

That’s not necessarily bad, depending on what it means.

However, there’s an old rule in public life that when your problems become a distraction, it may be time to step aside. Doing so is a reflection of character. Not to mention, a moral-based choice.