Senate File 104 was approved on third and final reading today by the Wyoming House of Representatives. Having already passed the Senate, the bill now heads to Governor Mead for his signature.
The measure removes most of the administrative powers of the voter-elected state schools superintendent and replaces it with a director of education to be appointed by the governor.
The bill will essentially make current superintendent Cindy Hill a voter-elected member of the Wyoming Board of Education.
Response is coming in from the various branches of state government. House Speaker Pro-Tempore Rosie Berger (R-Big Horn) released the following this afternoon….
CHEYENNE – SF 104 – Education State Administration – passed the Wyoming House of Representatives today, having previously passed the Senate, and is now headed to the desk of Governor Mead. The bill was sponsored by the entire leadership of both houses of the Legislature of both parties, the co-chairmen of the Joint Education Committee, and the Joint Appropriations Committee.
Passage of the bill, once signed by the Governor, will result in a clear separation between the powers and duties of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Department of Education, which will be led by an interim director appointed by the Governor. The Governor will have until Dec. 1, 2013 to appoint a permanent director from a list of three nominees from the State Board of Education.
The Wyoming Supreme Court has held, “These and other constitutional expressions should leave no doubt that the legislature has complete control of the state’s school system in every respect…” (Washakie Decision). The Legislature passed SF 104 to meet this constitutional responsibility.
As noted by Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau, “This is not action that is taken lightly, or without diligent study and research over the course of the past several years, and ensures that we have a department that is dedicated to implementing and managing the very important educational laws and policies that the legislature has enacted to drive Wyoming’s educational system to the head of the class…commensurate with the enormous investment that Wyoming has and will continue to make in our children’s education, and our future.”
As it passed the Legislature, SF 104 is financially neutral and does not negatively impact the state budget. It does not increase costs or add additional employees. It does fix the systemic problems that have hampered the Legislature’s efforts to improve education statewide for decades.
These intrinsic dysfunctions and confusion between the policy making role of the Legislature, and the administrative and managerial role of the Department have been noted as far back as 1985 in a Management Audit Report, again in 2006, and most recently in the series of Educational Accountability statutes that have been adopted in 2011 and 2012 following the Legislature’s frustration after essentially doubling funding for education, yet not meeting the Legislature’s mandate to ensure Wyoming’s graduates are career and college ready.
It was noted during debate on the bill in the House that there are many precedents for this kind of action in Wyoming history, including reorganization of the office of the elected State Auditor in 1989, and the simultaneous creation of the Department of Audit as a separate agency with the Executive branch.
House Minority Floor Leader, Mary Throne, noted the history surrounding the office of the Superintendent during the original constitutional convention, and the many times the duties and powers of the office have been changed over time.
In her comments, Representative Throne emphasized the duty and the responsibility of the Legislature to act saying, “We owe it to our children and to our constituents to do the job we are elected to do, to set policy, and to ensure those policies are followed with fidelity. It is our belief that the concept established by SF 104 will stabilize the operation of education in the state and provide the public and educational community with the necessary support to carry out laws enacted by the Wyoming Legislature.”
As passed, SF 104 preserves for the Superintendent a number of important responsibilities including constitutional duties along with a budget and staff to accomplish those duties, but transfers in an orderly process most duties that deal with financial and administrative components.