Wisconsin lawmakers passed Act 21 in June of 2011, which vests the Governor’s office power to enact, amend and enforce administrative rules. Administrative rules have the same force and effect as statutory laws passed by the legislature. Governor Walker interpreted this act as giving him final say on administrative rules related to public education. The Wisconsin Constitution, however, puts the supervision of public instruction in the hands of the state superintendent, and the conflict resulted in Coyne vs Walker, which was decided 4-3 by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in favor of Coyne in late May. This is the second time in twenty years the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled to assert that the office of superintendent has constitutionally vested powers to create and implement its own policies.
Background: Supporters of Coyne argue that Act 21 was a purposeful diminishment of public education by Governor Walker, who wrangled with Evers over his adoption of the Common Core State Standards, his opposition to the expansion of the state’s school voucher system, and how to rate schools under the state’s accountability system. Supporters assert the State Superintendent is an elected position, and if the superintendent is not doing the will of the people, will not be elected again. Supporters’s views of Walker can be found in Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of the conservative legal group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, who lamented the court’s ruling Wednesday, saying “the superintendent’s power to make regulations has ebbed and flowed over time, presumably in a constitutional manner. Therefore, the superintendent does not need unchecked rule-making authority to fulfill his/her constitutional duties.”
Connection for English Language Arts/ NCTE:
One of the first NCTE positions in 1970, Involving Teachers and Students in Decisions Regarding Educational Accountability, states, “Resolved, that teachers and students, the parties most crucially involved in the learning process, be actively involved with state and local school administrators, school boards, community groups, and parents in making decisions regarding accountability structures and procedures.” Direct election of a State Superintendent allows greater involvement of the public in ensuring good schools.