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. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

House passes bill endorsing online university operation in state

The House has passed SHB 1822, which declares the Legislature’s intent to partner with the online Western Governor’s University (WGU) as a competency-based degree-granting institution in Washington, and to recognize WGU as a Washington institution that is self-supporting and does not receive state funding.
On Tuesday, the bill was referred to the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee. A companion measure, SSB 5136, is in the Senate Rules Committee.
The substitute House bill gives the HECB the option to recognize and endorse online, competency-based education as an important component of the state’s higher education system. The HECB would be authorized to eliminate unnecessary barriers to allowing WGU to deliver its programs in Washington.
WGU is an online, private institution created in the mid-1990s by 19 U.S. governors, including former Washington Gov. Mike Lowry.
The House bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney of Seattle, told her colleagues last Saturday the bill’s purpose is to help meet the demand for educated workers by providing additional access to postsecondary education, especially for place bound workers and others who find it difficult to access traditional higher education institutions.
“WGU is not a substitute for what we have now, but rather would add another access for quality education in our state,” Gutierrez said.
One of the bill’s critics Saturday was Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater. He pointed out that the term “competency-based” was not defined in the bill, and that WGU-Washington would be the only private baccalaureate institution recognized in statute. He called that “very unusual.”
In earlier public hearings on the bill, some concern was expressed about whether WGU-Washington students would receive financial aid. The concern stems partly from the fact that 22,000 State Need Grant-eligible students are not receiving the grants this year because of a shortage of funds. WGU-Washington students would not be immediately eligible for financial aid. WGU-Washington would first have to become separately accredited and then would have to apply to participate in the State Need Grant program. 
The final vote on SHB 1822 was 70 in favor, 26 against, and two not voting or absent.
The bill requires the HECB to work with WGU-Washington to create data-sharing processes to assess its performance and the extent to which it helps the state achieve Strategic Master Plan Goals in higher education.
For an earlier report on SHB 1822 and SSB 5136, click here.

Monday, February 28, 2011

HECB request bills continue to advance in Legislature

Efforts continue in the Legislature on bills requested by the HECB to expand doctoral opportunities at branch campuses, to promote efficiency by eliminating certain HECB responsibilities related to local economic development entities, and to make changes in two targeted workforce scholarship programs.
HB 1586 authorizes the University of Washington and Washington State University to develop doctoral programs at their branch campuses, subject to HECB approval of specific degree programs. Currently, branch campuses are authorized to provide only baccalaureate and master’s programs. The bill, currently in House Rules Committee, was advanced one step closer to the House floor Feb. 25, when it was moved to the second step most bills go through while in Rulesmoving from the Rules “review” list to the “consideration” list of bills.
A companion measure, SB 5315, was advanced to the Senate Rules Committee earlier in February. A more detailed look at these bills was posted previously in the Legislative Report.
HB 1424 and a companion measure SB 5483, would make certain changes in the Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program and in the Future Teachers Conditional Scholarship and Loan Repayment Program. The programs encourage teaching and health professionals to work in parts of the state where workforce shortages exist in those fields. Scholarship recipients who fail to complete service commitments they made in exchange for the scholarships are required to make repayments to the state.
The legislation is intended to create more consistent repayment requirements between the two workforce scholarship programs, and to improve administration and operational aspects of the programs.
HB 1424 passed the House on a 94-0 vote on Feb. 14, and is now before the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee.  SB 5483 is in the Senate Rules Committee.
Two other companion bills, HB 1425 and SB 5484, concern HECB responsibilities under the Health Sciences and Services Authority (HSSA) program. Legislation passed in 2007 authorized creation of HSSAs to promote bioscience-based economic development and to advance new therapies and procedures for fighting disease and promoting public health.  One HSSA has been established in Spokane.
Current law authorizes the HECB to approve or reject applications for designation as an authority, to adopt implementation rules, to develop evaluation and performance measures that gauge the effectiveness of the publicly-funded authorities, and to report to the Legislature on the program. The HECB subsequently hired an outside consultant to evaluate the Spokane program because it lacked staff with expertise in that subject area.
Under the new legislation, the HECB would no longer be required to report to the Legislature each biennium.  The elimination of the reporting requirement is expected to save $66,000 next biennium.  HECB suggests the Spokane HSSA could use established evaluation criteria to do their own measurements of program effectiveness.
HB 1425 passed the House on a 98-0 vote Friday. SB 5484 has been advanced from the Senate Rules Committee to the Senate floor calendar.