Education Roundtable with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined Governor Chris Gregoire and legislative leadership today for an education roundtable. Duncan congratulated state lawmakers on discussing the issue of education reform, even through tough budget times. He further drew attention to the grave problems troubling education in the United States—a 25% national dropout rate, poor STEM education, the large number of students taking remedial courses, and gaping budget gaps, which challenge the adequate funding of education.
Of particular interest, Duncan commented on the current system of education governance in Washington, claiming: “Washington has eight different agencies with different strategic plans working in Washington and it’s very difficult for me to understand how having different agencies handling education…will transform education.”
Governor Gregoire has bills in both chambers to consolidate education governance into one Department of Education headed by the Governor. The plan would also consolidate many existing state education agencies into four primary education divisions: Early Years Division, K-12 Division, Community College and Technical Education Division, and the University Programs Division. All units would report to a new Department of Education Secretary.
Secretary Duncan reiterated President Obama’s commitment to investing in education despite the economic downturn, and gave examples of strategic programs and innovations the administration is working towards:
-Investing in Early Learning programs like Head Start, which studies have shown to improve achievement especially for disadvantaged students who do not have many educational opportunities at home
-Continuing the Race to the Top program which rewards schools for outstanding innovation and improvement in education (if approved by Congress)
Lastly, Governor Gregoire distributed a document describing how much it costs taxpayers when students “fall through the cracks” of the education system– by dropping out, taking remedial courses, or repeating grades–a number her advisers estimate at around $ 100 million a year. Though the problems facing education in Washington state and in the nation are indeed grave, it was encouraging to see lawmakers pause during a critical week to discuss education. As Secretary Duncan asserted, “our children cannot wait for the economy to bounce back”—education must remain a priority, despite the dire budget situation.