John Lyon of the Arkansas News Bureau has written about objections raised to the state Board of Education’s change of course last week — under pressure from Gov. Asa Hutchinson and with three of four votes from his appointees — to change the test used to measure student achievement in public schools
The change was railroaded. There won’t be the customary review period and bid process for the replacement test. For the third year, Arkansas schools will have no reliable way to gauge student progress because of yet another test variation.
But the vote was but one illustration of a much larger problem and it presents pitfalls, too, for Gov. Hutchinson, though he seemingly prevailed in this case.
Members of the state Board folded their opposition to a test change because of the inevitability that a state legislative review panel wouldn’t approve any decision but a rejection of the old PARCC test. Thanks to a constitutional amendment put on the ballot in 2014 and approved by clueless voters, Arkansas now has functionally a one-branch government — the legislative. It has absolute review authority over all executive agency rule making. The governor can use his bully pulpit, wheedle and dish a variety of favors, but if the legislature doesn’t like his ideas, it can kill them.
Separation of powers is dead. It would be unconstitutional except that voters made it so in 2014. And don’t got looking for help from the Arkansas Supreme Court. It’s now in control of judges ready to surrender to popular (meaning legislative, not voter) whim.
The change of school tests is just an early manifestations of the immense power of the legislature in a state that already had a weak executive thanks to the simple majority veto override and extraordinary constitutional limits on taxing and spending.