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Oregon's Governor Seeks Education Overhaul

Like another Democratic officeholder one state to his north, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is attempting to wrestle control over an education system that he argues has become fragmented and ineffective.

Kitzhaber, who was recently re-elected to the office he controlled from 1995 to 2003, announced he wants to establish an 1) an "education investment board" and 2) "education investment fund," to oversee and coordinate school policy and spending from birth through college. The governor signed an executive order to create a team to develop a blueprint for how to structure the board and fund and consolidate other education functions. Another goal of the team is to create a more coherent early childhood education system throughout the state.

He also wants to make the elected state superintendent of public instruction's position an appointed position. That post is currently held by state schools chief Susan Castillo.

Changing the status of the school's chief's position, like some other elements of Kitzhaber's plan, would require legislative approval, Tim Raphael, a spokesman for the governor, told me. The timetable for how soon the elected superintendents' job would be phased out would have to be worked out with the legislature, he said.

"The structure of the system stands as an inadvertent barrier to the achievement of our educational goals," Kitzhaber said. "Budget decisions throughout public education are opaque and disconnected; incentives created through the way Oregon distributes dollars to schools [discourage] practices educators want to support."

A spokewoman for Castillo, Susanne Smith, said in a e-mail that the schools chief opposes making her position an appointed one. But she noted that Castillo appeared alongside the governor when he announced his education plans, and that she will serve on the team studying education changes. Despite their disagreement over the elected/appointed issue, Castillo believes that division "must not get in the way of the work they can do together to create a more streamlined student-focused education delivery system."

Kitzhaber argues that his state's education system today is "built around silos," rather than coherent policy ideas.

If that language sounds familiar, Gov. Chris Gregoire of Washington fashioned many of the same arguments last month in calling for an overhaul of her state's education system, one that would leave her with more control over schools. As I reported recently, post-election season is usually the time when new and returning governors seek to shake up the structure of how schools are run in their states.

Given the public's interest in education, and the amount of money that gets spent on it, don't be surprised to see more school-focused shakeups coming out of state capitols.

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