Wyoming Legislature update
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
December 14, 2014
December 11, 2014
Hello Sublette County,
I attended the Joint Education Committee (JEC) meeting in Jackson on December 10th and 11th. On the 10th, we spent all day discussing the governance structure for K12 education in Wyoming. The focus of the discussion was whether Wyoming should retain an elected Superintendent of Public Instruction or move to an appointed director of education. The Co-chairs of the education committee and the Management Council of the Legislature hired an out-of-state consultant to provide us with information regarding Wyoming education, with a survey of stake holders, and with options for a path forward.
I did not agree with some of the conclusions of this study, especially where it portrayed K12 education in Wyoming as failing the state’s children. The consultant’s survey suggested that Wyoming residents were ready to eliminate the elected Superintendent position. This was not a scientific poll of the electorate. The Casper Star-Tribune did conduct such a poll in October, which revealed that 68% of Wyoming voters do not support eliminating the elected position of Superintendent. However, many good discussions about important issues in Wyoming education arose through the course of the consultant’s presentation.
In the end, JEC in a narrow vote (7-5) chose to bring forward a resolution to bring a constitutional amendment to the voters, eliminating the elected Superintendent position. I voted against this resolution for three reasons. One, the Superintendent serves on some very important statewide boards, including the State Lands and Investment Board, and without that participation, education would not have a voice in those decisions. Second, I believe the public is tired of this issue. Finally, this issue has split the Legislature for two years, and we need to leave this issue alone and let hard feelings heal.
I proposed an alternative: to create a task force or an educational council which would bring all the factions of K12 education together to help solve some of the difficult issues surrounding education in Wyoming, including how to make the governance of K12 education more seamless. These "silos" of educational governance in Wyoming have become territorial. Communication and cooperation must improve to move education forward in Wyoming. We do not need to radically change our governance structure, but just find good solutions which will smooth the rough edges out. Local districts need to be a major player in this project. My motion failed by a slim vote, but the idea has wide appeal, and I will continue to pursue it. We need to define a vision for education in Wyoming and more clearly define the responsibilities of the silos of education, but we must do so in a collaborative manner.
I do not believe that the resolution to bring a constitutional amendment to voters, to eliminate the elected superintendent, will pass the full Legislature. A constitutional amendment is the right vehicle for radical change, but I do not believe the time is now, nor do I believe it is needed or desired by the electorate.
On the 11th, we heard a very positive report about the grant program for early childhood education, which was approved last session. This grant program is designed to aid, not supplant, local efforts in early childhood education, and several communities applied for the grants.
We heard a very good report on school safety, and out of that report three bills were generated for consideration by the Legislature. The first bill creates a tip hotline program, which will be nearly identical to Colorado’s Safe2Tell program. This is not just a tip hotline, but a program designed to prevent tragedies and help troubled children, and it has been very successful in Colorado. The second bill would create a grant program, where the State of Wyoming would provide 1/3 the cost of a school resource officer (SRO) for districts which do currently have one. The third bill would provide districts funding to send teachers to Wyoming’s law enforcement academy, to be trained as SROs. Providing districts with SROs was the number one recommendation of the Governor’s Task Force on School Safety, and this conversation will continue through the recalibration of the school funding model this next summer.
Bills were also passed on distance education, excess mill levy rebate, and a reciprocity agreement with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. For more information contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org