Who’s on First? Legislature debates higher ed governance

Who’s in charge of education in Washington state? That’s not as simple a question as you might think. The legislature is giving this question a close look this year. Normally the subject of “governance” is so sticky that policymakers avoid it. Not so this year, with budget cramps driving all sort of new conversations.

The state board for community and technical colleges (SBCTC) is appointed by the governor. The board has budget and policy control over 33 community and technical colleges, each with a board of trustees appointed by the governor.

The Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board oversees private career schools and veterans programs, among other things. This board also is appointed by the governor.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board (yes, also appointed by the governor) is charged with representing the broad public interest in public higher education. The board administers publicly funded financial aid, authorizes institutions to offer programs in the state, and does some policy work for the state.

Not done yet.

Each of six public baccalaureates has its own governing board, appointed by the governor.

No wonder policymakers hesitate to tackle this behemoth. Still, this year, the governor and several legislators have taken on this complicate policy area, hoping both to save money and improve coordination among institutions and between the K-12 and higher ed sectors.

You must have heard by now of the governor’s proposals to create a mammoth Education Agency that encompasses all of education, from cradle to grave. Sen. Scott White has a bill to do away with the HECB and replace it with a financial aid administrator, shifting all policy functions to the governor’s budget office.

Sen. Don Benton has sponsored a bill that creates a 19-member board of regents that does everything from setting admission requirements to “prescribe the courses of study for each campus.” Sen. Benton also has a bill abolishing the Council of presidents.

You never know if a bill will capture the imagination of lawmakers. But generally the more complicated and controversial a bill, the more difficult it will be to collect enough votes for passage.

Coming soon: the first look at your bill tracking table for 2011. More than you wanted to know about higher ed bills in the legislature.

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About Linda Schactler

Linda is the former Director of Communications for the Washington State Senate, and former deputy director of the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board. From 2000 through 2010 Linda was the proprietor of Schactler Communications, an Olympia-based public affairs business. She holds a master of arts in English literature from Washington University in St. Louis. Linda can be reached at her Ellensburg office schactler@cwu.edu, 509-963-1384, or on her cell phone, 509-607-4103.
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