Wisconsin State Representative Paul Farrow proposed in Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel consolidating Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI), University of Wisconsin system, and Technical College System into a single state agency. Is it a good idea?
There is an obvious logic to Farrow’s proposal. All three agencies are in the business of educating Wisconsin citizens and it makes sense to have them all working towards a common goal of an educated workforce that is an asset to Wisconsin’s economy. A streamlined education agency, if well run, certainly would be well positioned to run Wisconsin’s education system with a focus on the state’s economic future.
However, there are a few important questions to consider when evaluating this proposal. First, to what extent are the missions of the three agencies different? While all three agencies are responsible for educating Wisconsin citizens, ensuring students graduate from high school proficient in math and reading is far different than teaching a trade skill or providing a liberal arts education. No doubt all three agencies play a major role in the state’s economic health, but their core missions are different.
Second, who would lead the agency? DPI is headed by an elected state Superintendent. The University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Technical College system are governed by separate appointed boards. Presumably, the governance structures of all three agencies would need to be combined, which would also presumably require a constitutional change given the State Superintendent is a constitutional office. Not an easy task.
Third, is it wise to put 36% of the state budget in the hands of one agency? Providing a free and appropriate education to its populace is the most important thing state government does, making the expenditure of substantial resources in this area understandable and necessary. However, budgeting such a large share of funds for one agency makes it even more important that the governance structure of the new agency is effective and representative. Also no easy task.
Questions aside, Farrow’s point that government agencies responsible for educating Wisconsin students should work together is strong. Perhaps a place to start is increasing communication and shared programming initiatives between the three agencies. Good example of this includes DPI and UW’s recently expanded dual enrollment program and the Milwaukee Partnership Academy. If programs likes these prove fruitful they will likely spur more cross agency collaboration, and perhaps one day, consolidation.