I am not surprised. The governor’s office has given signals that she has been considering this.
Given what the governor has proposed, you have to ask yourself two key questions:
- Can a new department of the governor carry out the mission and advocacy for K-12 education as well as an independently-elected and independently-run office?
I am suspicious that you will lose the independence of the K-12 system to a more political arena that is highly dependent on the interests of whoever sits in the governor’s chair. While Gov. Gregoire’s passion for K-12 education might lead to governance fully supportive of the K-12 mission, it is obvious that not every future governor will have the same passion and priorities.
By creating a monstrously large Department of Education, and a department that represents almost half the state budget, you are guaranteed to have a complex department to manage. In addition, a department that represents drastically different interests and operations, such as K-12 and Higher Education, may well be unable to do justice to either.
- If you wanted to dramatically change how education is delivered in this state, where could you best accomplish that – as a part of the governor’s office or an independent office?
Certainly you can argue that giving the governor control of education from preschool through college could lead to more radical changes than if you kept K-12 in a separate agency such as OSPI.
But there’s a significant tradeoff. By merging Preschool, K-12 and Higher Education governance, you lose the advocacy for and stability of the constitutionally mandated K-12 system that you get from independent OSPI oversight.
Over the last few years, we already have seen a shift in control of the State Board of Education, which oversees the K-12 system, from a largely independent organization to one in which half of the members are now appointed by the governor.
Losing the checks and balances of having a separate OSPI and an independent State Board of Education, has a dramatic potential to politicize education even more and follow the politics of the ruling governor.
It is fair to say that I have doubts that the competing interests and the added politics that reside in the Governor’s office will result in either a more efficient system or better education for the children of Washington.