Wyoming Legislature Update
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
May 29, 2016
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting from the rain soaked meadows of the Green River Valley. On May 9 and 10, I attended the Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability in Casper. During this meeting we discussed development of Wyoming’s new statewide assessment, the newly passed federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the state’s Teacher and Leader (Phase II) Accountability, and development of an accountability system for alternative schools.
Since I was first elected to this office, I have consistently tried to push accountability for K12 education back to local school boards where it belongs. There are differences in student populations among all Wyoming districts, and local school boards are best suited to provide accountability to the parents and citizens who elected them. At the same time, Wyoming’s Constitution mandates an equal and quality education to all students in the state. This means we must have statewide educational standards to ensure all Wyoming graduates have a comparable skill set. The idea of a comparable skill set for students was a major factor that drove educational reform around the nation, and helped produced No Child Left Behind (NCLB).The implementation of this Act, with its unachievable objectives, should have proven that one-size-fits-all models of education don’t work. However, at a state level we must comply with our constitution and try to provide an equal education to all students. Wyoming’s Supreme Court has demanded more than just equity in funding, and that "more" is heavily debated at the state level.
During the meetings, we heard a report on the Wyoming Department of Education’s (WDE) efforts to develop a Request For Proposal (RFP) for Wyoming’s next generation statewide student assessment, and updates on implementation of ESSA.A task force of educators provided sideboards for a new assessment, and made recommendations to the Legislature this last session. We in turn tweaked the recommendations, and passed legislation which defines what the next assessment should address. Among these sideboards are that the test can take up only 1% of a student’s instructional time and that it must provide data in a responsive amount of time. We have heard consistently from parents that children are over-tested, and that test results return from the vendor too late to affect instruction.
Every Student Succeeds Act, the replacement for the failed NCLB Act, appears to include more state and local control of K12 education and federal education dollars. The new act has fewer requirements for statewide education accountability, but does require instituting some new accountability items like school climate (a nebulous concept). Having just spent over $800,000 in consultant fees for Wyoming’s current Phase I accountability model, it is a little hard to stomach spending even more money to update our model to fit this new federal act. I voted against the Legislature hiring this out-of-state consultant, who is paid $2000/day, and recommended that WDE and the State Board of Education do the work or hire it done. My little revolution failed, but not by a lot. It is time the Legislature stepped back from micromanaging K12 education, including use of highly paid consultants.
Phase II was the major battleground of the May 9-10 meeting, and Phase II is development of teacher and leader accountability models. The committee unanimously agreed to draft legislation to eliminate teacher accountability, believing that teacher accountability is without question the responsibility of local school boards. The battle in committee revolved around leader accountability, specifically how much role the state should have in assessing the performance of principals and superintendents. We already require certain assessment standards for these positions. Why do we need to go further? The state would never, I hope, have the audacity to fire a principal or superintendent from a district, so why would we want to create more reams of paperwork for districts by developing an elaborate accountability system? The only one who benefits from this effort is the $2000/day consultant, who continues to be hired for refinement of the model. A majority of committee members agree that there should be a review of principal and superintendents’ credentialing standards, and some action on that front if necessary. But the committee is split on this issue of leader accountability, so we kicked the issue down the road to see what our Advisory Committee, made up of educators, brings back to us.
This past session, I co-sponsored a bill that raised the speed limit on highways from 65 mph to 70 mph. However, I have received multiple comments about the effect this higher speed limit could have on migrating big game in Sublette County. I have contacted the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department about this issue, and we have organized a public meeting to be held June 9 at 7 pm in the conference room of the Sublette County Weed and Pest office. This will be the public’s chance to express opinions on speed limits and migration corridors. The primary stretch to be discussed is Highway 191 from Pinedale to the East Fork River, but any stretch of highway can be brought up.