Thursday, March 31, 2011

New education department proposal heard in Senate committees

A new education governance proposal heard by two Senate committees in recent days would establish the Department of Education sought by Gov. Chris Gregoire, but the department’s state-level responsibilities over early learning, K-12, and higher education would be implemented in phases through mid-2013.
The new proposal, offered as a second substitute to SB 5639, received a public hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee Wednesday.  The proposal was initially unveiled during a public hearing last week on an amendment to a different bill, ESHB 1849. During that hearing, Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee Chair Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe of Bothell, who supports the new governance proposal, announced it would most likely be reintroduced as a second substitute to SB 5639.
At the Wednesday public hearing in Senate Ways & Means, the proposal received endorsements from the Governor’s office and the Washington Education Association.  Opponents included the Washington State Association of School Administrators, the Service Employees International Union, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.
A spokesman for Dorn said the Superintendent continues to oppose the Governor’s education department proposal because of concerns it will create confusion over responsibilities for K-12 education in the state, and because of doubts about the efficiencies and cost savings it would create.
A fiscal analysis of an earlier version of the Senate bill estimated savings from the education department proposal at about $570,000 in the first biennium, and about $1.6 million per biennium thereafter.  A Senate staffer said the savings with the new proposal would be somewhat less than that estimate because of changes in the proposed legislation.
Under the new proposal, the Superintendent would be housed within the education department but would retain the supervisory duties pertaining to public schools that are granted by the state Constitution.
The new education department Secretary—who would be appointed by the Governor subject to confirmation by the Senate—would be required to “coordinate and collaborate” with the Superintendent of Public Instruction and to provide administrative support services for that office.
The bill also requires the development of a system-wide strategic plan that integrates goals for early learning, K-12 and higher education, and it establishes a 13-member state Education Council to advise the Secretary on broad policy issues affecting the education system.    
The version of ESHB 1849 that passed the House March 2 does not immediately create a new state education department.  Instead, it would establish an education council to “develop recommendations for restructuring state entities with responsibilities for early learning, K-12 education and postsecondary education.” The House version was discussed in more detail in an earlier post on the Legislative Report.
In addition to coordinating and collaborating with the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the new governance proposal would give the Education Department Secretary the responsibility to administer state and federal higher education financial assistance programs. Those programs currently are administered by the HECB. 
Under the proposal, the HECB and other state-level higher education agencies would continue to perform other current statutory duties. However, the proposal calls for the Governor to appoint a transition team “to develop a plan specifying the technical and practical steps required to bring the current state-level education agencies and structures” into the new Education Department. A transition-team subgroup appointed by the Governor would specifically work on recommendations for incorporating state-level higher education entities into the Department of Education.
The Education Department’s initial operations and responsibilities over early learning, K-12 education, and higher education financial assistance would be phased in starting July 1, 2012, with implementation completed by January 16, 2013.
The higher education transition subgroup would develop recommendations for including the duties of state-level postsecondary entities into the education department by July 1, 2013. Those recommendations would be submitted to the Governor and Legislature by Dec. 1, 2011, in time to enact legislation necessary to implement the recommendations during the 2012 legislative session.

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