Lawmakers offer  bill to strip duties from  Superintendent of Public Instruction

By Gregory Nickerson
January 10, 2013

This morning the chairmen of the House and Senate education committees introduced a bill that would transfer many of the duties of the elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction to a director appointed by the Governor.

In a press release Sen. Hank Coe (R-Cody) and Rep. Matt Teeters (R-Lingle) debuted Senate File 104, Education-state administration. They framed the legislation as a remedy to the flawed governance structure they say has challenged the Department of Education for decades.

The bill provides for an immediate appointment of an interim director upon passage of the law, followed by an official appointment of a director by December 1, 2013.

The proposed policy comes after tensions between the Department of Education and lawmakers, and personal confrontations between Sen. Coe and State Supt. of Public Instruction Cindy Hill (R). Geoff O’Gara recently reported on these tensions and education reform efforts in Lawmakers in the Classroom: The Battle for Wyoming’s Schools as part of WyoFile’s Legislature 2013 series.

The full text of the Senate File 104 is available here. Progress of the bill can be tracked here.

Click here for a pdf of the press release. The full text of the press release appears below:

For Release           Immediately  | January 10, 2013

Contact                   Senator Hank Coe and Representative Matt Teeters
Joint Education Committee Co-Chairmen

To Reach                 Sen. Coe:  (307) 777-7711     |     Rep. Teeters: (307) 777-7852

SF0104 Stabilizes Education Governance

Cheyenne – The Chairmen of the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee are sponsoring legislation to improve the governance of Wyoming K-12 public education system.  Sen. Hank Coe (R-Park) and Rep. Matt Teeters (R-Goshen) have offered SF0104  “Education – state administration” to create an appointed position to administer the Department of Education.

The bill has broad co-sponsorship support, including all majority and minority members of leadership in the House and Senate, the Joint Appropriations Committee chairmen, and various members of the Legislature’s education committees.

This bill addresses the longstanding problem of instability in education governance in Wyoming.  The current governance structure jeopardizes the State’s significant investment in K-12 education.

The legislation prescribes duties for a director of the Wyoming Department of Education, which will be appointed by the Governor, and adjusts the duties for the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Acting under the Constitutional mandate from the Wyoming Supreme Court to provide an adequate and equitable education system,  Sen. Coe and Rep. Teeters sponsored the bill to clearly define roles and responsibilities regarding education policy at the state level.  The sponsors note that Wyoming’s state-level education governance structure no longer serves the needs of students, schools and citizens.

The proposed change reflects the reality that the governance of Wyoming’s K-12 education system can be best served through an appointed public servant, rather than an elected official. Teeters stated, “Education issues should not be political in nature.  The time has come to take personal politics out of the education equation.”

Coe added, “We acknowledge the strained relationship between the Legislature and the State Superintendent. As we considered options to address critical education needs, we worked to separate personality from the issues.  We have done that and recognize that, at its core, the current education governance model is flawed and we have grappled with this flawed structure for several decades.  This bill fixes that problem.”

All sponsors agree that without the stability provided by an appointed position to administer the Department of Education, the investment Wyoming has made in the State’s K-12 system is at risk.

“We are proud of the substantial investment Wyoming makes in our K-12 schools.  Wyoming has made a first-class effort to provide the best possible education system for our children and we need to ensure we have a Department that can effectively oversee this investment, and that is best provided by an appointed director,” Coe said.

The education improvement efforts started with the creation of a school finance model that provides over $1.3 billion each year for school district operations.  The Legislature has also increased resources for the Wyoming Department of Education to ensure that staff has the institutional knowledge and skills to administer this complex system.

Teeters said, “In the process of creating a constitutional school finance model, we discovered that the world of education is growing more complex. Over the past decade we have worked to develop expertise and talent in the Department.  Our goal is to ensure that the Department of Education staff is equipped to deal with the this complexity.”

The sponsors emphasize that the need for an appointed director is clear.  The failure to implement accountability provisions of the law has been well documented.  In addition, staff turnover, personnel assignments, and budget decisions are impacting Wyoming’s ability to provide the best education possible for its children.

Teeters added, “The decision to propose the change in governance structure was difficult to make.  We have a responsibility to make tough decisions when the demand is clear.”

Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. 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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