Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed the creation of a Department of Education last week that would unite K-12 and higher education interests under the same umbrella.
According to a press release from the governor’s office, the new department would have complete control over the Washington State education system.
“We don’t have an education system in our state today,” Gregoire said in the press release. “We have a collection of agencies that deal with education. And those agencies…spend much of their time trying to get their policies to line up with one another.”
Gregoire said the agencies should all focus on educating students from early learning to the point at which they begin their career.
“We must step up and lead to build and maintain the world-class education system Washington deserves,” she said.
Samuel Shaddox, student member on the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB) and former ASWSU director of legislative affairs, said the proposed department may give higher education funding higher priority.
The proposed department has a good chance of being created because there is a desire to present one cohesive department among Washington’s education agencies, he said. Uniting K-12 education and higher education under one umbrella could give higher education more attention.
Shaddox said the proposed consolidation could change the tendency to think of higher education after K-12.
“Education is a life-long goal,” he said. “If the department is implemented correctly, higher education may rise in importance.”
The idea of consolidating all education departments into one is a fairly new and radical idea, Shaddox said. If the department is created, it would put Washington on the map in terms of education policy, and other states could look to Washington as a role model.
Shaddox said the new department would present an opportunity.
In the past, there has been fractionalization within higher education, he said. The new department would allow for consolidation and, therefore, more accountability.
But, while Shaddox said the proposed department could be a good thing for higher education, he worried that some employees from present agencies might not be retained.
“Losing members of the HECB would not be good for the state, schools or students,” he said. “If we lose them to restructuring, it would be a significant step backward.”
Shaddox also stressed the importance of student involvement in the new department.
“I don’t want to be the last student involved in state-level educational policy building,” he said.
Provost Warwick M. Bayly did not wish to comment as of press time.