Bill to appoint director of Education Dept. gains momentum

By Gregory Nickerson
January 15, 2013

Legislation to to transfer duties of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to an appointed director is making its way through the Senate at a rapid pace.

Last night “Senate File 104 Education-state administration” passed the Committee of the Whole after two hours of debate.  Today the file passed second reading after discussion of several amendments. To read the amendments, click here.

Initial opposition to the bill centered on the perception that it would effectively dismantle the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is created by the Wyoming Constitution.

However the constitution states the duties of the position are created by statute, which the legislature is free to change.

“Oversight of education is the charge of the Wyoming legislature,” said Senate File 104 co-sponsor Hank Coe (R-Cody). “Thirty years of Supreme Court cases have made it clear that it is the legislature’s duty and charge to oversee education.”

Sen. Curt Meier (R-LaGrange) said the Senate File violated the spirit of the Constitution, if not the letter of the law. “On the face of it, yeah, technically we haven’t crossed that line. But in the spirit of violating the Constitution I think the bill does,” Meier said.

After voting against the bill last night, Sen. Meier released a small flood of amendments to the bill today. Sen. Coe jokingly referred to Meier as an “amendment machine.”

In yesterday’s debate Meier noted that the bill does not list the minimum qualifications of the appointed director.

Before second reading today Meier offered Amendment 3 to require the director to hold a graduate degree, plus have 10 years of management experience that demonstrates exceptional accomplishment. The director would also be required to have knowledge of accountability, assessment, statistics, and school finance. The amendment passed.

In Amendment 2, Meier gave certain duties of the appointed director back to the state superintendent, and deleted a section on applications for charter schools. The senate adopted the amendment.

Meier also offered Amendment 4, which would give the senate power to reconfirm the governor’s appointed director of education every two years, among other changes. Meier withdrew the amendment before the committee could vote on it.

Senate File 104 requires the director of education to make a yearly report on education to the legislature.  Senators John Schiffer (R-Kaycee) and Chris Rothfuss (R-Albany) offered Amendment 1 laying out the topics to be covered in the yearly report, including quality of education, measurement of achievement, and suggested innovations, among other topics.  The senate adopted the amendment.

Opponents of Senate File 104 have noted that transferring duties away from the Superintendent of Public instruction would in effect take responsibility for education away from an elected official who is accountable to Wyoming voters.

In particular, opponents have voiced concerns that the bill gives too much power to the governor in appointing the new director.  Since the director of education would be housed under the governor’s office, it could make the leader of the Department of Education less accountable to voters and Wyoming’s elected representatives in the legislature.

Sen. Drew Perkins (R-Casper) tried unsuccessfully to remedy that concern with Amendment 5, which would have given the state board of education the power to appoint the director of education.

Several senators opposed the amendment because Wyoming’s board of education is not elected. Those who spoke against the amendment included Sen. Coe, Sen. Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie), and Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs). The amendment failed.

Senator Meier said he may introduce an amendment on third reading to elect the state board of education. That change would allay concerns of granting more power to the governor, while ensuring that the appointed director would have some accountability to the electoral process.

Audio of yesterday’s Senate Committee of the Whole debate on Senate File 104 is available here. Senate File 104 debate begins after minute 92 of the recording.

For information on how to contact your legislator regarding Senate File 104, click here.

Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com.

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Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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  1. Thank you for this informative article and for including all of the links. This kind of reporting will make it possible and convenient for people like me to follow the legislature closely.