Parents, taxpayers, and all other citizens of the State of Washington should pay close attention to Governor Gregoire’s proposed reform plan to form one consolidated state education agency. If this issue concerns you, please express your concerns to your legislators.
Where did this plan come from? What – and who – is behind it? Is this plan a result of open discussion with parents, taxpayers, and other citizens of Washington State? That doesn’t appear to be the case since even Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn appears to not have been aware of the plan until the governor announced it. Does that not raise a big red flag? If the plan is such a great one, in the best interest of all, why did the Governor not consult with the Superintendent of Public Instruction when developing her plan?
Is this plan, in part if not wholly, coming from or being influenced by interests outside the State of Washington? Is this plan influenced by the National Governors Association (NGA), an association now chaired by Governor Gregoire? Page 7 of the NGA’s document, The Big Reset State Government After the Great Recession, provides the nation’s governors the following guidance:
Because of the dire budget outlook over the next few years—and the loss of federal education stimulus funds after September 2010—states and K-12 districts will need to be more aggressive in streamlining services and exploring cost-reduction options that don’t jeopardize student achievement. Underutilized schools should be considered for closure and districts with small numbers of pupils should be consolidated, which has been shown to save costs (as much as 20 percent).2 Statewide, all districts should consider merging services, purchasing, and outsourcing functions where it is advantageous. Textbook use should be standardized across districts and greater use of online resources should be encouraged, including the use of online courses for students as well as teacher professional development. Even the benefit and retirement system for new teachers should be examined. Often, this system is more generous than that of state employees’ and does not play the role it once did in attracting new teachers, who may not want to spend a lifetime in the profession.
To move forward in some of these areas, governors may find it beneficial to establish an advisory body or commission to examine certain policy options. For example, Governor Barbour in Mississippi recently established the Commission on Education Structure to study the best way to go about consolidation the state’s 152 districts. The commission is a mixture of legislators, education specialists, business leaders, and other stakeholders
Some mention is made about improving outcomes for students, but this plan does not spell out how it will do that. How will this consolidation help our children? How will it help our teachers? There is more talk about accountability, streamlining, government efficiency, consolidation of services, and savings. No figures have been provided showing where the savings will be. Will this save money in one area only to cost more in another as often happens? Where will money be saved? How much?
Accountability? This seems like a move away from being accountable to the people of the State of Washington. Even as elected officials, both Governor Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Dorn do not seem to be accountable to the people of this state. Instead, their actions and decisions show greater accountability to the NGA, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and other interest groups and individuals as evidenced by their support and push for Race to the Top and “provisional” adoption of the Common Core State Standards. The plan for one education superagency moves accountability farther away from the parents, taxpayers, and other interested citizens of the state.
The streamlining, government efficiency, and consolidation of services aspect of the plan sound good. Who wouldn’t want more government efficiency (oxymoron?)? But should some of this streamlining and consolidation be left to local communities and taxpayers, who should decide what they want? Current agencies can be streamlined without consolidation to effect greater, more efficient services at less cost to the taxpayer, and without removing an elected position at the state level.
The development of a plan to consolidate and streamline should include parents, taxpayers, other interested citizens, the governor, the superintendent of public instruction, other key educational leaders, and legislators working together to reach agreement. The people should be given the opportunity to vote on these critical changes. Without this kind of development, the plan appears to be a power grab driven and influenced by personal interests and factors outside of the State of Washington.
For additional related reading:
Governor Chris Gregoire 2011 POLICY BRIEF