Gov. Jay Inslee startled many in education circles when he quietly moved to replace half of the Washington Student Achievement Council.
What went wrong so quickly? Former U.S. Rep. Brian Baird of Vancouver seemed a capable chairman of the board filled with boldfaced names. Inslee is replacing Baird and others appointed by former Gov. Chris Gregoire just last summer. The appointees had expected to serve until 2015 and 2016.
Inslee’s office says nothing went wrong. The achievement council is “pretty important” to the governor and he wants to make sure it “reflects his vision and priorities,” said his spokeswoman Jaime Smith.
Ok, but that begs the question of how the current group, and the manner in which it has carried out its duties thus far, does not reflect Inslee’s priorities for higher education. Why the need for change now?
Some of the sharpest thinkers on higher ed sit on the council: Baird, Jose Gaitan, former chair of the state Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission; Jay Reich, former deputy chief of staff to former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Constance Rice, a managing director at Casey Family Programs.
I’ve been impressed with the council, created by the Legislature to replace the defunct Higher Education Coordinating Board. Soon after being appointed, members hit the road on a statewide listening tour; they’ll debrief members of the state House Higher Education on April 23rd. The council website lists the cities council members visited.
The achievement council was formed by House Bill 2483 and imbued with legislative muscle and strong connections to the Legislature and colleges and universities, has a lot of promise, as this Times editorial noted last spring. Its role, to better align the state’s education systems — K-12 public schools, community colleges and four-year colleges and universities — to get more students in post-secondary education, is too important to get derailed by politics.
Others on the nine-member council were appointed by state agencies, the Council of Presidents, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges and Independent Colleges of Washington.
“New governor, his call,” said state Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor. As a matter of basic fact, that is correct. What’s troubling is that the changes cannot help but slow the council’s momentum. New members will need to get up to speed during a critical legislative session in which a lot is at stake for higher ed.
The task of galvanizing the public around improving Washington’s educational system and increasing college degree attainment was challenging enough. More so, if the council becomes a political football.
Influenced perhaps by the Final Four basketball tournament on television last night, Seaquist, chair of the House Higher Education Committee, was into sports metaphors when I talked to him yesterday about what is at stake.
“The old HEC Board sort of sat on the bleachers watching what was happening on the court,” he said. But the new council, full of bold, capable leaders, had all of the promise of being a game changer. But game interrupted while we all wait to see who the governor picks and how quickly they can get moving rolling.