By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming’s Board of Education has received an attorney general’s opinion on the constitutionality of proposed computer science standards for the state’s schools, a board member said Friday.
Sue Belish, testifying before the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee, said the board will review the opinion from Attorney General Bridget Hill during its meeting next week.
Hill’s office was asked in June to answer several questions about the constitutionality of the standards developed in response to legislation approved almost two years ago.
Belish said without Hill’s opinion, the Board of Education was unable to proceed with the standards. She declined to specify what constitutional questions Hill’s opinion addressed.
Belish’s appearance came in response to a request from Education Committee members in June for an update on the standards.
The standards have been rewritten numerous times, since concern has been expressed from elementary school teachers and the attorney general’s office about various issues.
The issues included worries about teachers learning computer science requirements in a time crunch.
Attorneys also expressed concern about whether the standards would meet constitutional requirements for public instruction to be uniform, since some schools in the state would only be able to teach to minimum requirements and others would be able to offer expanded programs.
Belish noted it takes a number of months for the content review committee (made up of individuals including teachers and computer scientists) to go through the process of evaluating the standards.
Due to the mixed testimonies the Board of Education received about the then-current standards during its meeting in March, its members asked the content committee to rewrite them, Belish said.
The committee came back in April with revised standards and benchmarks.
Belish felt public comment was more positive during that meeting, but since the committee only had one month to rewrite the standards, members only focused on the requirements for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“At that meeting, the board formally approved starting the rule promulgation process,” she said. “It went to the governor, the secretary of state and out for 45-day comment.”
The Department of Education has collected those comments, so the board will consider them at its meeting on Friday, Nov. 22.
Belish said that during its last three meetings, the board has had computer science standards on its agenda, but without an opinion from the attorney general, there was nothing that could be done.
However, she told the committee that the board received Hill’s opinion on Tuesday, which will be considered at its meeting next week.
Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, questioned what the constitutional issues were, but Belish invoked attorney-client privilege to not answer.
She said the board would talk about the attorney general’s opinion next week and be transparent about its consideration.
Board of Education Chairman Walt Wilcox told the committee that the board plans to implement the standards by 2023, about a year after the originally slated date.
Representatives from the state Department of Education, meanwhile, said the state’s students have seen increased access to computer science education without the standards.
“I want to point out that this data shows since from 2016-17 school year, there really has been increased student access to computer science,” said Kari Eakins, the department’s chief policy officer. “A lot of districts are making substantial progress toward the implementation. We currently have 907 secondary students enrolled in a computer science course, but only 196 of them are female.”
She added in her presentation that secondary school teachers will have to obtain certification to teach computer science, but elementary school teachers will not.
Members of the public testifying during the hearing, such as state Rep. Sara Burlingame, thanked the Education Committee for working to get the standards in place.
However, several also noted that the standards should be in place as soon as possible so young students can begin learning computer skills.
“If we lose those critical years, we’re the ones who pay,” Burlingame said. “Our students pay, but our economy, our workforce that doesn’t have those skills, we’re the poorer for it. I hope there’s a level of excitement that the state of Wyoming decided to invest in this. We’ll work out these bumps together. This is a neat thing we’re doing here.”