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A 'Superboard' to Oversee Education Spending?

Governors across the country have come forward with far-reaching proposals on school spending, which in some cases would bring major cuts in education aid. But one of the more unusual and ambitious plans to change a state's approach to spending money on schools has been put forward by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The Democrat, who returned to office this year after being elected to two terms in the 1990s, has proposed what some are calling a "superboard'' to oversee K-12 spending in the state.

Kitzhaber says his proposal would create a more streamlined and coordinated system that would allow the state to make smarter investments from early childhood education through college.

The proposed panel, officially known as the Oregon Education Investment Board, would have to win passage in the state legislature. It cleared one step by gaining the approval of a state Senate committee last week.

Kitzhaber says that if the board it is approved, it would begin working with lawmakers to develop legislation in 2012 to develop an "outcome-based budget"; consolidate and rework Oregon's early childhood programs; create a consolidated finance model for the state's higher education institutions; and establish an "integrated, statewide, child-based data system to track expenditures and return on investment for education-related programs" for children from birth through the age of 20.

Kitzhaber praised the Senate committee's vote, calling it "an important step in shifting the debate about education from a simplistic focus on the K-12 budget to a more thoughtful discussion about changes needed to deliver better results for students, more resources for teachers, and a better return on taxpayer dollars."

The bill was advanced despite some lawmakers' concerns about the measure not receiving a sufficient public vetting, and about its overall reach. One legislator said he worried about a "concentration of power that takes even more control away from parents, students, and teachers" according to an account in the Statesman Journal.

The board would have 13 members and Kitzhaber would chair it. One of the questions I had was how much authority the panel would have to make spending budget decisions on its own—a responsibility that now resides with the state legislature. But Christine Miles, a spokeswoman for Kitzhaber, said that education spending plans crafted by the board would have to be approved by state lawmakers—as is currently the case with budgets proposed by the governor.

I've heard of states establishing authorities to oversee and coordinate policy in certain areas of government, such as transportation. Some higher education boards serve a similar function. But I'm not aware of similar models for K-12 systems. I'll put the question to readers: Can you think of any comparable models to what Kitzhaber is proposing in Oregon?

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