The Wyoming State Board of Education meets in Casper on April 11 to discuss a legislative budget footnote prohibiting discussion of the Next Generation Science Standards. (Click to play)

Groups push for elected Wyoming State Board of Education

By Gregory Nickerson
— April 25, 2014
 
Updated Monday April 28, 2014.

Two political groups want members of the Wyoming State Board of Education to be elected, rather than appointed by the governor, as they are under current law.

Wyoming Citizens Opposing Common Core and Wyoming Liberty Group plan to ask lawmakers to draft legislation for an elected State Board of Education at a Joint Interim Education Committee meeting (Friday April 25).

“A government-appointed Board entrenches government priorities in the public education system and isolates the very people who use and pay for it,” wrote Amy Edmonds in a press release from the Wyoming Liberty Group.

The release further stated that, “elected State Board of Education would best serve Wyoming’s educational needs and allow for more citizen and parental involvement in state education decisions.”

In the past several years,  efforts by the legislature and the State Board of Education to improve school performance and adopt new education standards have run into opposition from those concerned that such changes would erode local control and parental involvement.

The Wyoming Liberty Group specifically mentioned the State School Board’s April 11 debate over the Next-Generation Science Standards as a reason the board should be elected.

“The discussion during the recent State Board of Education meeting alerted us to the urgent need for an elected Board,” Edmonds wrote. “Board accusations of political interference by legislators representing their constituents at this meeting shows that many Board members are making decisions without taking parents’ wishes, hopes and dreams for their children into account.”

Rep. Tom Reeder (R-Casper) and Rep. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) attended the April 11 meeting to ask the State Board of Education to follow a budget footnote preventing any review of the Next Generation Science Standards. That footnote was introduced by Rep. Matt Teeters (R-Lingle), who co-chairs the Joint Education committee with Sen. Hank Coe (R-Cody).

The leadership structure of the Wyoming’s K-12 education system has been a major topic of contention following the passage of Senate File 104 in the 2013 session, which was sponsored by Teeters and Coe. That law transferred management of the Wyoming Department of Education from the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction to a director appointed by the governor. Proponents of the bill intended it to reduce political conflict and increase collaboration with the Wyoming Legislature.

“Education issues should not be political in nature. The time has come to take personal politics out of the education equation,” Teeters said in a 2013 press release about Senate File 104.

Since then, the idea of appointing the State Board of Education has gained traction among some Wyoming voters who believe it would make the board and its decisions more subject to public input.

The current appointed members of the State Board of Education include the Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill (R) and the following members:

To listen to a live stream or an archived recording of the meeting, click here.

Outcome of the meeting

Update Monday April 28, 2014: 

WyoFile spoke with members of the Joint Education Committee following the meeting. While members of the public did give testimony advocating for an elected school board, it was only one of several issues discussed.

The most significant outcome of the meeting is that the committee has decided not to pursue a special legislative session to address education governance questions. The recent return of Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill as head of the Wyoming Department of Education seems to have cooled legislative interest in a special session on that topic.

“If there is not some consensus with regard to what the legislature wants to do with the (education) governance structure, then there really is not any urgency to go into a special session with that,” said Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper).

The board heard testimony from about five individuals who spoke in favor of making the Board of Education elected, while at least one member of the Board spoke against such a proposal. The Education Committee did not immediately take up the idea, but will take the input given last week under consideration for meetings this summer. Some members expressed reservations about the concept of electing the board.

“I’m not convinced that an elected school board is the way to go,” Sen. Landen said. “There’s a lot of good things about how we are doing it now. I’d have to be convinced to the merits of changing that particular provision of law.”

Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) also disagrees with the idea of having an elected state Board of Education. “There are a lot of people that think an elected school board is a good idea.  I think it’s a horrible one,” he said. “We had difficulty because we politicized one education position (the Superintendent of Public Instruction). I don’t know how that problem gets solved when you politicize nine positions.  It sounds like pouring gas on a fire.”

For some legislators, having the governor appoint the state Board of Education helps insulate that group from politics. Landen says the appointments help ensure expertise and a wide geographic and political diversity on the board. Rothfuss thinks states that have an elected school board, such as Texas, have seen significant politicization of the education system.

“There should be filters between education and pure politics,” Rothfuss said. “The closer you bring politics to education the worse off it is going to be.”

Others saw an elected board as a way to get board members who would lessen government control of education and make schools more accountable to parents.

“If you want to make the system less political you‘ve got to get government out of education,” said Maureen Bader of the Wyoming Liberty Group. “More government control is moving in the wrong direction. … More bureaucracy is going to cost more and there is no reason to expect better results because we haven’t seen them in the past,” Bader said.

— 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. Lets see if we understand the position of the Wyoming Liberty Group correctly. They believe a board comprised of a certified classroom teacher, a certified school administrator, two members representing private business/industry, seven members from among the lay citizens of the state known for their business and professional ability and their public spirit, and a mandate that no political party have a majority and the members serve for 6 years, is TOO POLITICAL.

    And their solution is to fill these seats through a political campaign/election process?

    Who could believe this will make the board less politically influenced? Only a person who believes adopting their 65 years old husband in order to reap more inheritance from their family’s fortune I suppose. That’s right, the founder of the Wyoming Liberty Group, Susan Gore,adopted her 65 year old ex-husband in an attempt to score a greater share of her parents hard earned wealth.

    And this group is aggressively exerting their financial muscle while acknowledging that the goal is to “become a foundational influence in state policy research and education.”

    Perhaps it’s time to question the motivation of the Wyoming Liberty Group, and why they are so focused on derailing an education policy and reform that promotes independent thinking and in depth critical analysis. Perhaps this group doesn’t want students that instinctively question the motivations of political action groups.