Statement by Supt. Randy Dorn on the office of the State Superintendent:
State Superintendent Randy Dorn testified today to the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee to oppose three bills. Senate Joint Resolution 8212 and Senate Bill 5522 would amend the Washington state Constitution to eliminate the Superintendent of Public Instruction as an elected official. In addition, a bill requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire would establish a Department of Education and give broad authority to a governor-appointed Secretary of Education. Here is the full text of his remarks:
Olympia - February 2, 2011 - Thank you for letting me speak here today.
Education needs an independent, nonpartisan voice – someone who will champion it 24/7. That’s what the framers of our Constitution wanted, and I believe it’s what our voters want.
If the Superintendent of Public Instruction were appointed instead of elected, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now – at least not without making sure that what I say has been approved by the Governor.
Our Constitution was designed to decentralize power – to give a little bit of power to a number of people. It recognized that there are certain areas – law, treasury, lands and education – that must have leaders who aren’t subject to a governor.
Not only that, our framers explicitly made education the state’s “paramount duty.”
That would change if the State Superintendent becomes an appointed official. It would also change if, as Gov. Gregoire proposes, a Department of Education is created. Section 105 of her bill would give a new governor-appointed secretary all the power that the Constitution now explicitly gives the State Superintendent.
What disturbs me most about the bill is that it hides its intent. I am opposed to the two Senate bills. But they are straightforward in calling for a Constitutional amendment, which – if it passed – would involve a popular vote. An appointed Secretary of Education, as the Governor’s bill calls for, has no independence and can be fired at any moment. In other words, the “power” is transferred to the Governor. And it’s being done without letting the people decide if it’s what they want.
That sounds more like grabbing power, not decentralizing it. Based on my reading of the Constitution, and at least one past Attorney General opinion, the bill is unconstitutional.
Because I am elected, I can say this without fear of getting fired: I believe this issue is nothing more than a smokescreen. While constitutional discussions are great for a civics class, they mean nothing to districts that face drastic cuts. Or to teachers who won’t see pay increases that were promised to them.
They mean nothing to students, who are having to meet tougher standards at the same time as the supports to help them are being cut.
That is the big issue we face today. That’s what’s important. It’s what matters.
But you won’t hear that if the State Superintendent is appointed by a governor, or if a Secretary of Education is put in place. You’ll only hear what the governor wants you to hear.
As the state’s paramount duty, education deserves and demands an independent voice. If the position isn’t an elected one, who would be sitting here speaking for our one million public school students, who aren’t receiving the basic education that our Constitution guarantees them?
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the primary agency charged with overseeing K-12 education in Washington state. Led by State School Superintendent Randy Dorn, OSPI works with the state’s 295 school districts and nine Educational Service Districts to administer basic education programs and implement education reform on behalf of more than one million public school students.
OSPI does not discriminate and provides equal access to its programs and services for all persons without regard to race, color, gender, religion, creed, marital status, national origin, sexual preference/orientation, age, veteran’s status or the presence of any physical, sensory or mental disability.
OSPI Communications Manager
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