Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Senate committee gets first look at proposal for new state-level education agency

A draft proposal expected to be in the hands of legislators later this month will recommend creating a new state Office of Student Achievement to focus on increasing educational attainment from preschool through college.
Members of the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee heard a briefing on the proposal last week from Leslie Goldstein, higher education policy advisor for Gov. Chris Gregoire.  Over the summer and fall, the Governor chaired the Higher Education Steering Committee, a group created by the Legislature to propose responsibilities for a new Council for Higher Education (CHE), which is slated to replace the HECB in July.
The proposal likely to emerge from the steering committee would create an entity with broader responsibilities than higher education alone. The new Office of Student Achievement would replace the HECB. Its responsibilities would include coordination and planning among all state education entities, including the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Department of Early Learning.
The Office of Student Achievement proposal outlined by Goldstein was compared by some legislators to Gov. Gregoire’s earlier proposal for a new state Department of Education. That proposal was opposed by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and others, and did not pass in the last legislative session.
Goldstein said the Office of Student Achievement would be very different from the previously-proposed Department of Education.  Rather than having responsibility for actually governing and managing P-20 educational programs, the new office would be tasked with providing better policy coordination among the entities. It would not change the existing relationships among state-level agencies and local educational providers, such as between OSPI and local school districts, or SBCTC and community and technical colleges, Goldstein said.
The proposed new office would incorporate duties now performed by the HECB, the State Board of Education, and the Educational Research and Data Center, which is currently housed in the Office of Financial Management.  The proposal would not create a separate state office to manage student financial aid programs, as enacted in the CHE legislation. Financial aid administration would remain with the new office. 
Under the proposal outlined by Goldstein, the Office of Student Achievement would have an executive director appointed by the Governor and an advisory board comprised of six citizens and five representatives from state education agencies and higher education institutions. Two non-voting members would represent private independent K-12 schools and the Independent Colleges of Washington.
Goldstein said steering committee consultants and some members have concerns about the P-20 scope of the new agency and prefer a board comprised exclusively of citizen members, similar to the existing HECB, rather than one consisting of a mix of citizens and institutional and stakeholder representatives. She predicted the draft proposal expected later this month will be a “consensus document” of the steering committee, “with some concerns expressed as well.”  

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