Thursday, July 19, 2007

Penney Sanders for State School Commissioner

While the State School Board was scouring the country looking for someone to fill the post of State School Commissioner, they apparently didn't notice (or chose to ignore) an obvious candidate.

After the Barbara Erwin fiasco, maybe one of the things they need to do anyway is look a little closer to home. Penney Sanders, the former head of the Legislative Research Commission's Office for Education Accountability, would be an excellent choice for this position.

Here are some reasons for considering Sanders for the post:
  • She knows the educational lay of the land better than any other candidate the Board could find
  • She has established relationships with state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, many of whom know her well
  • She is not afraid to take on the educational establishment when she needs to
  • She knows not only the policies of Kentucky education, but the politics
  • She not only hasn't padded her resume, but doesn't need to
  • She's available
Sanders was the first director of the Office for Educational Accountability in the early 90's, an office created under the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA). Her tenure there earned her the applause--and the criticism--of many. Some knew her as the "Dragon Lady" for her willingness to face issues that needed to be faced head on, and for her tenacity in doing what she thought was right. But there wasn't anyone who didn't respect her.

I was one of those who publicly applauded, and criticized, her. Sanders is not someone who would do everything I would want her to do. She was, after all, the chief enforcement officer for KERA, a policy initiative of which I was probably the chief public critic. But unlike so many others who viewed KERA as some sort of educational panacea, Sanders, while remaining supportive, was willing to admit that there were common sense changes that needed to be made, and was willing to work with groups across the political spectrum to try to accomplish them.

Why would anyone not want Sanders in the position? She is on record as supporting school choice, that's why. But the opponents of school choice need to get over it. Sanders was speaking as a Catholic school official, a post she occupied after leaving the OEA. And that's one of the things that Catholic school officials do: they talk about school choice.

If those of us who opposed KERA are willing to swallow hard about that issue in considering an excellent candidate like Sanders, then the anti-choice people ought be able to do the same in regard to school choice.

It would be ironic for the Board to repeat its mistake of overlooking Sanders, since Sanders knows Kentucky education better than any member of the Board--or, for that matter, all of the Board members put together. The question is, do the Board members know enough to know this? If they choose to ignore her again, then the answer to that question will be obvious.

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