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Wednesday, October 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gregoire proposes new schools office

Superintendent calls move a power grab

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.

The state could eliminate the elective position, or keep it and have the OSPI report to the education secretary, Gregoire said at a morning news 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.

Dorn said late Wednesday that comment came “off the top of my head” in a response to a debate question. But after two years in office and working with state education leaders who are both elected and appointed, “I think it’s definitely better to have an independently elected nonpartisan official leading education in our state.” It’s more important to focus on getting enough money for education, not who has the power, he added.

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, and Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, a member the education and higher education committees, said a cabinet position has merit, but she 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 the levels of peer schools, and state scholarships and grants must also be expanded.

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