The first effort to merge the Department of Higher Education with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has run into advocates of the status quo and those who worry about a department that would be too powerful. Senator Charlie Shields proposes the merger as a way to produce a more unified education system from preschool through postgraduate college, an effort that he says will produce a quality workforce.

His proposed new board of education could, among other things, kill college programs and merge universities. Critics don’t want a board with that much power. Other Senators say schools would lose much of their independence—which Shields says is part of his point. He says Higher Education is fragmented, duplicative, consumes a lot of money and its results are not what they should be.

Opposition to his plan has forced him to pull back. He says he does not believe the Senate has the political will to create the coordination of higher education programs that is necessary to reform the system and save money. Shields says he’ll rewrite his plan to weaken the board’s powers and bring back his proposal.

Listen to the debate, part One 1:02

Listen to more debate, Part 2 1:00 mp3