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Spin Control

Gregoire proposes education czar

Gov. Chris Gregoire explains proposals for education and higher education at a press conference Wednesday.

OLYMPIA — All of Washington's education systems and programs, from preschool through graduate degrees at universities, should be working together and overseen by a single office, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday.

Gregoire proposed creating the cabinet position of Secretary of Education — appointed by the governor and approved by the Legislature — and placing responsibility for the many “silos” of education at all age levels into that office. That would include the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, a constitutionally mandated official, elected by voters every four years, just as the governor is.

The state could eliminate the elective position, or keep it and have the OSPI report to the Education Secretary, Gregoire said at a morning press conference. “I'm comfortable either way.”

The current occupant of that office, Randy Dorn, is not comfortable with the idea. Wednesday afternoon he suggested it was a power grab by the governor…

“I've been a legislator, and every governor I've ever known has wanted more power. They've tried to abolish offices,” Dorn said in a prepared statement. “I am an elected official: my boss is the people of this state, not the governor…Would the governor also suggest that the other elected officials report to a governor-appointed official?”

But when he ran for the office in 2008, Dorn did say that the job should not be elected, but rather appointed, perhaps by the governor.

A spokesman said Dorn wasn’t immediately available to discuss how the governor’s proposal differed from his campaign stance. But Nathan Olson said that when Gregoire discussed her plan with Dorn before the morning’s press conference, the governor had suggested the superintendent would not be reporting to an education secretary.

The idea met with limited support among legislators of both parties. Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, chairwoman of the House Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee, said it could improve coordination but “the devil is in the details.”

Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, a member the education and higher education committees, said a cabinet position to coordinate education has merit but also wondered about details.

Gregoire said citizens tend to hold governors responsible for the quality of the state's education, even though authority is actually spread out and a governor only has direct control over the Department of Early Learning: “If I am ultimately responsible, let me be responsible.”

The change was among a series of education proposals Gregoire unveiled Wednesday. She also said schools need to expect more of high school seniors, turning 12th grade into a “launch year” in which students take more rigorous classes that count toward college credit or apprenticeship programs that would lead to jobs.

More state residents should earn bachelor’s degrees because most new jobs will require that level of education, she said. State colleges should have more authority to raise tuition when the Legislature does not provide enough state money, but the tuition must be tied to peer schools and state scholarships and grants must also be expanded.


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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

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