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Brown wants to ax secretary of education position

Brown campaign photo

As part of his campaign pledge to "make government more efficient and effective," Gov.-elect Jerry Brown has promised to do away with the secretary of education position, a fixture in governors' cabinets since the early 1990s.  

He plans to rely more on the state Board of Education (which the governor appoints) and the existing California Department of Education staff. He also plans to "play a major role in education policy" himself, drawing on his experience as the founder of two Oakland charter schools and having to deal with a public school system as Oakland mayor. 

At the rate he is going, Brown appears to be angling for a slimmed down cabinet compared to his predecessors. In addition to this little-noticed campaign pledge, Brown is also considering eliminating the chief of staff position. (Gray Davis – later Gov. Gray Davis – was his chief of staff when Brown was first governor.)

Eliminating the appointed secretary of education position won't have any material impact on the state budget, but it should help reduce some of the confusion in state education governance. It also marks a distinctly different approach from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who earlier this year called for eliminating the superintendent of public instruction, a statewide elected office mandated by the state's first constitution. 

At the moment, education leadership is shared (not always equally or easily) among the superintendent of public instruction (currently Jack O'Connell), the state Board of Education (appointed by the governor), the secretary of education (currently Bonnie Reiss), who is a member of the governor's cabinet, and the governor himself. 

As Michael Kirst, a Stanford emeritus professor of education and now chief education adviser to Brown told me earlier this year, "Everybody's in charge, and nobody's in charge." 

Here is Brown's position, as stated on his campaign website and noted on John Fensterwald's Educated Guess blog:  

Currently, education policy making at the state level is divided among the state Board of Education, the superintendent of public instruction and the governor’s secretary of education. As governor, I eliminated some of this overlap by not appointing a secretary of education and looking to the state board for educational policy advice. Given education’s fundamental importance, I intend to play a major role in education policy. But I would work with and use the existing staff of the state superintendent or state board, as opposed to having my own separate educational staff. 

The position has its roots in an "education adviser to the governor" position appointed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1968. Reagan's appointment was an unlikely one: liberal UC Berkeley psychology professor Alex Sherriffs, who had been a key administrator at UC Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement in 1964 and had opposed Reagan during his election campaign of 1966.   

A key pledge during Brown's campaign was that he would reduce the governor's budget by 10 to 15 percent. Now that he has targeted the secretary of education, and possibly the chief of staff, watch for the next cabinet position to face extinction. If he goes on like this, he will be a very busy governor indeed. 


Filed under: K–12, Daily Report


Comments are closed for this story.
chily3's picture
If he is really serious about reducing Government. Then eliminate the entire "Agency" level of gov.
Caroline Grannan's picture
How about the state Board of Education? It's just a charter school lobbying organization anyway. The charter school industry pays for its own lobbying organization, so why should the taxpayers fund an additional one?
marybergan's picture
As I recall,the office of the secretary of education as we currently know it was created by George Deukmejian, largely as a counter to then-SPI Bill Honig. It should have been eliminated long ago. I think it has been built into some legislation, so a bit of a review will be in order. The current State Board is overpopulated with charter school folks. That can - and should - be changed as vacancies and opportunities for new appointments occur.

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