Gov. Chris Gregoire is proposing a new state Department of Education that would take over duties handled by the voter-elected state school superintendent and other agencies.
Gregoire announced the plan Wednesday, part of her efforts to streamline government during the economic downturn. The Democratic governor said consolidating Washington's education efforts - "from preschool to the Ph. D." - would save time, money, and improve outcomes for students.
"Today in our state, we do not have an education system," Gregoire said. "We have a collection of agencies that deal with the subject of education."
Under her plan, a new Department of Education would absorb responsibilities currently held by a wide array of officials, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, who oversees public K-12 education in the state. The new Education Department would be headed by a secretary, reporting to the governor.
That new Education Department would supervise the state's entire schooling system. The education secretary would work with a state Education Council, whose members also would be appointed by the governor, and a K-12 education ombudsman.
Gregoire's plan could require amending the state constitution, which establishes the state superintendent's office. Amending the constitution requires a difficult two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature and public approval by statewide vote.
The reforms wouldn't stop with reorganization. Gregoire also proposed transforming the senior year of high school into a "launch year" that focuses more intensely on getting students ready for higher education or work.
"By making that last year of high school the first year of career training, we can give our students a step up, a step ahead," she said.
The education overhaul also would focus on boosting college graduation, with a particular emphasis on science and math-related degrees and underrepresented demographic groups.
Gregoire's plan also would put into force recommendations from the new higher education task force, including greater flexibility for individual colleges to raise their tuition. Gregoire also is endorsing the task force's other suggestions, including a $1 billion scholarship fund from the private sector linked with state tax breaks.
"At the end of the day it's all about the students' performance," Gregoire said.
Washington's Democrat-led Legislature convenes Monday for a 105-day session.