Friday, February 18, 2011

Education Council bill gets hearing in House Education Appropriations

A bill that would create a new state council charged with developing a plan to restructure state-level oversight of public education from early learning through college received a hearing in the House Education Appropriations & Oversight Committee on Tuesday.
While commending the goal of the legislation—creating a more efficient and effective education delivery system in the state—some people who testified expressed concern over the council’s proposed composition and its ambitious timetable for completing an overhaul plan of the state’s entire public education oversight and supervision structure.
Under HB 1849, the Washington State Education Council would be tasked with developing a transition plan that would enable the Superintendent of Public Instruction to exercise supervision over all matters pertaining to the public school system including, for the first time, postsecondary education.
The bill would not affect the statutory authority of local school districts or college boards of regents or trustees. It might significantly change the duties of or eliminate a number of state-level agencies, including the State Board of Education, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and the HECB.
The council would be required to submit a progress report to the Governor and Legislature by January 2012, and a final restructuring plan and implementing legislation by December 2012.
“This council will make a recommendation as to where we go into the future,” said Rep. Kathy Haigh of Shelton, the bill’s prime sponsor and chair of the education appropriations committee.
“It’s very important to me to have higher education in the same room when we’re talking about early childhood and how we put this all together. If anybody is left out, we won’t hit the mark that I believe we need to hit in creating a really student-centered, strong education system in this state.”
“We do appreciate the sentiment and spirit from which this bill arises,” said Chris Thompson, the HECB’s Director of Government, College & University Relations. However, he expressed concern that the legislation presumes the council’s work should end with the state school superintendent having oversight of all public education.   
Another concern was that the bill as drafted would give K-12 a stronger voice in the council’s decisions than higher education. In addition to the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the council would include nine members appointed by the Superintendent, nine members appointed by the Governor, and four members of the Legislature.
Even before the first person testified Tuesday, Haigh announced she would offer at least one change related to that issue. The change would give the council authority to select its own chair and vice chair.  The current version makes the state school superintendent the council’s permanent chair and chief executive officer. 
Haigh’s bill addresses some of the same concerns reflected in Governor’s Gregoire’s proposal to create a new Department of Education responsible for early learning through college.  SSB 5639, which passed out of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee Wednesday. It reflects some of the Governor’s ideas but removes higher education state-level entities from the new department. Instead, the Governor would be encouraged to create a follow-up transition team to consider the possible inclusion of state-level higher education governing functions within the new department.
HB 1973, which was just introduced this week, is the Governor’s original proposal. It would include the functions of various state-level higher education agencies in the new Department of Education. However, that bill has not been scheduled for a public hearing, and the cutoff for bills to be voted out of policy committees is Monday.
Another higher education governance bill that did move out of a legislative policy committee this week was SSB 5182, sponsored by Sen. Scott White of Seattle. It would eliminate the HECB and create a new Office of Student Financial Assistance to carry out many of the same financial aid responsibilities now performed by the HECB. The director of the new office would be appointed by the Governor.
The bill also would establish a new Council for Performance and Accountability to administer the financial aid office and develop performance-based measures and goals for higher education institutions, consistent with each institution’s particular role, mission and strategic plan. The council would consist of a representative from each of the state’s public colleges and universities, the director of the state system of community and technical colleges, a community or technical college president (or designee), and one president or designee from an accredited, private non-profit college located in Washington.
The HECB consists of citizen members appointed by the Governor.

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