Friday, March 4, 2011

House passes Education Council bill as Governor urges action on new cabinet agency

The House this week passed ESHB 1849 to create a new 23-member Washington State Education Council tasked with recommending changes in the governance structure for early learning through postsecondary education.
Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Gregoire made a fresh pitch for her proposal to absorb a number of state-level education agencies into a single Department of Education with authority over early learning through postsecondary education,
At a news conference, the Governor said she believes progress has been made in the Legislature to transform the state’s education governance system to better respond to today’s intense global competition for jobs.  Joined by legislative representatives and others, the Governor said much more work needs to be done.
HB 1973, which would implement the Governor’s education department proposal, was introduced late and so far has not had a committee hearing.  A Senate bill, SSB 5639, would implement some of the Governor’s ideas but would not include state-level higher education responsibilities under the new education department.
That substitute Senate bill was passed out of the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee and is now in  Senate Ways & Means. Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe of Bothell, prime sponsor of the bill and chair of the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, said the measure is necessary to implement the budget and therefore not subject to Monday’s deadline for moving bills out of their houses of origin.  
Thus far, the education governance bill that has moved the farthest in the Legislative process is ESHB 1849, whose prime sponsor is Rep. Kathy Haigh of Shelton. Under her original bill, the council would have been tasked with developing a transition plan to enable the state Superintendent of Public Instruction to exercise supervision over all matters of public education, including postsecondary education. The HECB raised concerns over the bill’s assumption that the end result of the council’s work should be an education system supervised the Superintendent of Public Instruction.  
Under the substitute bill passed by the House, the Superintendent’s future role would not be assumed. Instead, the education council would “develop recommendations for restructuring state entities with responsibilities for early learning, K-12 education, and postsecondary education.” The council would submit a preliminary progress report to the Governor and Legislature by January 2012, and final recommendations by the following December.
The substitute bill also addresses concerns expressed earlier about the council’s composition. Among other things, the Superintendent of Public Instruction would no longer serve as the permanent chair of the council; instead, the Superintendent would perform that role until the council could select its own chair and vice chair.
The bill approved by the House also requires the council to identify any state programs or initiatives that do not contribute to making the public education system more student focused and able to provide seamless service delivery. Another amendment requires the council to identify state policies or data collection that would improve education system accountability. 

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