SEATTLE - The future of a plan to consolidate most of the state's education work into a new Department of Education was undecided Wednesday, as the governor prepared to pump up her promotional campaign for consolidating state education programs and boards into one Cabinet-level department.
The proposal by Gov. Chris Gregoire was passed by the Senate Education Committee with one major change. Higher education was removed from the consolidation effort.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on the bill but no vote.
Meanwhile, the chairwoman of the House Education Committee wasn’t sure if the governor’s proposal was right for the state’s children.
“The governor’s proposal began with a predetermined outcome. That may or may not be the wisest, most prudent approach,” Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, said Wednesday.
Santos said everyone agrees that the state’s education system is fragmented and that Washington needs a seamless system from early learning through college, but she supports a different approach that might come to a different conclusion.
She supports a proposal by Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, that would form a Washington Education Council to develop a recommendation for a new preschool-through-college education system.
Santos didn’t want to call Haigh’s proposal a step back. “It takes a measured step forward,” she said.
The chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee said another education study wouldn’t get much support in the Senate.
“We have studied far too long,” Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, said.
McAuliffe said the governor is right: It’s time for one leader to make sure the plans for fixing the state’s education system are carried out.
She added, however, that despite the apparently broad differences between the House and the Senate at this point in the session, there’s room for compromise and enthusiasm for finding a solution that works for both houses.
The presence of two representatives, including Haigh, at the governor’s news conference shows they all have areas of agreement, McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe said the governor is working with everyone to make sure a compromise is reached.
“I know she’s going to work very hard to bring everyone together,” McAuliffe said.
The governor’s plan would eliminate the State Board of Education, the Department of Early Learning and nearly 10 other departments, boards and committees and place their functions under a new Department of Education. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction would still oversee K-12 education, but most administrative matters would move to the new department.
Under Gregoire’s proposal, the governor would — starting next year — nominate a secretary of education, who would need confirmation from the state Senate. Gregoire said she foresees a nationwide search for a professional to head the department, someone with vision and leadership skills but also expertise in education.