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Wyo Education: Value Of Four-Day Week Depends On School, Balow Says

in News/Education
9557

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. – those are the times that families expect their kids to be in school. The times that teachers expect to be in front of their classrooms.

But the “traditional” view of school days and times is changing – even in Wyoming. 

Right now, according to the Wyoming Department of Education, 26 school districts in the state have moved to a four-day school week to meet the changing needs of students and staff.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said the benefits of a four-day week vary from school district to school district.

“For students, it gives them sometimes longer class periods during the four-day week where they can work more with teachers and interact with their peers,” she said, adding that Fridays are often utilized for intervention or enrichment activities for students. 

“We see this a lot in our smaller school districts,” she said, pointing to her own experience as a teacher in the tiny town of Hulett in northeast Wyoming.

“I can tell you that there are lots of Fridays that because of sports, there may be 50% to 60% of the school gone for the better part of the day – so a four day school week also allows for a school district to make some some decisions about making sure kids are in school for those four days, and then activities are on Friday,” she said.

Balow noted the shift can sometimes be based on financial issues.

“Financial gains or losses really need to be analyzed and realized at the local level,” she said. “In some cases, it might be a financial gain to have a four-day week. And in some cases, it might cost a little bit more, just depending on how it how it is worked.”

But she added that no matter the school’s decision, the one thing that must remain unchanged is the number of hours the students are in the classroom.

“Whether they do it within four days or five days, the student contact hours are the very same,” she said. “And they have to assure the state Legislature and my department and the State Board of Education that they are meeting those those contact hours for students.”

Jimmy Phelps is the superintendent for Washakie County School District No. 2 in Ten Sleep. Currently, the school operates on a schedule of four full days of classes with an alternating early release schedule on Fridays.

This spring, the school board was contemplating making a move to a four-day school week. But ultimately, he said, there wasn’t enough support for the measure to pass.

“I set up a task force that had 16 members,” he explained. “It included staff members, parents, stakeholders, and we looked at various aspects of it. We talked to members of other districts, and then we put out a survey to our stakeholders, and we had a very good response number from those.”

Responses to the survey in support of the measure included the idea that a four-day week promotes better mental and emotional health for students; opposition to the proposal stemmed in part from the fact the change would force parents to rework their schedules. In addition, some respondents saw no problem with the current schedule. 

Additionally, respondents noted that the school has more pressing issues to consider right now than a change to the weekly schedule.

In the end, Phelps said, there wasn’t enough support for the board to approve the change.

“There were more that had a definite yes, than definitely no, but there still wasn’t more than 50%,” he said. “So this task force felt like there wasn’t enough community support to recommend to the board a four-day week, for next year.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Niobrara County. George Mirich, the superintendent for the school district there, said the district moved to a four-day school week in 2019 for a number of reasons.

“One, we needed more time for professional development,” he explained. “And we needed to curtail our time out of classroom activities – between all of our activities, the low number of students and the high number of teachers involved in these activities as far as sponsors and coaches and such, we were missing school multiple times in the same week.”

Mirich said about 300 students attend school in the district, and on any given day, 30 students could be missing class to take part in any number of activities.

“And Fridays, a lot of times, we’d be missing half our kids and most of our teachers,” he adds.

So it’s worked out well for the schools in Lusk, according to Mirich.

But for Ten Sleep, the issue is now moot.

At a meeting that was held March 8, Phelps said the school board for Washakie County School District No. 2 closed down the discussion about moving to a four day week.

“It doesn’t mean it may not ever come up again, but there was nothing in the motion that the board approved about considering this in the future,” he said.

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Sublette County School District No Longer Requiring Masks

in News/Coronavirus/Education
9544

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Pinedale schools are no longer requiring students, staff or board members to wear masks on any of their campuses.

Sublette County School District No. 1 posted on its social media site Sunday that the new rule would take effect on Monday. The district’s schools consist of the elementary, middle and high school in Pinedale.

“Simply stated, no student, staff member or visitor to the district will be required to wear a mask,” the district said.

Gov. Mark Gordon ended the statewide mask mandate on March 16, but his order continues to require the use of masks in public schools.

The decision by Sublette County school trustees to defy Gordon’s order was made during the district’s board of trustees meeting on March 11, when the board passed a motion to eliminate school SMART Start Plans and follow the minimum guidelines set by state public health officers.

However, the motion made an exception for health orders on masks in schools and lifted the requirements.

“The Board would also like to make it explicitly clear that this action does not prohibit wearing a mask by anyone who wishes to do so, and the Board expects all students, staff, parents and community members to respect everyone who chooses to do so,” the district said on social media.

Gordon said his decision to lift the public health orders in place for months reflected the state’s continually improving health metrics and is consistent with his approach of balancing public health with protecting livelihoods.

“I thank the people of Wyoming for their commitment to keeping one another safe throughout this pandemic,” Gordon said. “It is through their efforts that we have kept our schools and businesses operating and our economy moving forward. I ask all Wyoming citizens to continue to take personal responsibility for their actions and stay diligent as we look ahead to the warmer months and to the safe resumption of our traditional spring and summer activities.” 

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Balow: No One Solution To School Funding Problems

in News/Education
9328

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

There’s no one simple solution. 

That’s the message from Wyoming’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, on the issue of budget cuts and finding ways to address a roughly $300 million dollar deficit in education funding.

“It’s a whole lot of surgery on our school funding model,” she said, “and finding the very best ways to keep cuts away from the classrooms, and cuts away from the great opportunities that we provide to our students.”

Balow, who grew up in Gillette, knows very well the realities of a boom-and-bust economy based on mineral royalties and taxes. And she noted the situation the state is facing right now is nothing new.

“If you retrace the steps that led to the devastating impacts that caused the downturn in our coal industry, you’ll experience deja-vu,” she said. “Because the very same thing is happening.” 

To close the $300 million dollar gap, the State can either create new revenues in the form of taxes, redirect current funding streams, or make drastic cuts to local budgets that have already experienced reductions — or, most likely, a combination of all three. 

“The truth is that not one of these is going to fix the deficit that we have,” Balow explained. “And not one of these is going to fix the deficit that we will realize if oil and gas continues in the direction that coal did 10 or so years ago.”

Balow added that the deficit is sometimes hard to acknowledge, because Wyoming in the past has been able to dip into the state’s Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, commonly known as the rainy day fund, to eliminate the gap — but that won’t be around forever.

“We continue to take as much as we need from the LSRA, to make up for the school funding difference, and so we don’t feel it,” she said. “But that’s not sustainable, because as soon as that goes below $500 million, right now, in current statute, that faucet is off.

“Because it feels like we’re flush with money, it feels like the funding is the same,” she continued. “But in reality, we’re taking from the rainy day account to make up that deficit.”

The Wyoming Legislature is considering several measures that could generate additional revenue for education, including House Bill 61 that would add a percentage to the statewide sales tax. Those bills will be making their way through the Legislature this week.

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Bill Would List Political Affiliation For School Board Candidates

in News/Legislature/Education/politics
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would allow school board candidates to list their political affiliation on ballots won approval from a Senate committee Friday, despite objection from the Wyoming School Boards Association.

Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, the sponsor of Senate File 138, told members of the Senate Education Committee that the party affiliation listings will help voters decide who to cast their ballots for in school board races.

“Every year during election season, I do my due diligence and try to make sure I understand who the candidates are,” said Ellis, a member of the committee. “Inevitably, before I was elected and spent so much time working on education issues, I really had no idea who was on the school board.”

Ellis noted by allowing school board candidates to add their political party affiliation, voters would also be alerted to some of their ideals.

“I think it would indicate to voters what your mindset is and I know there are people who are proud of their party affiliation, Republican or Democrat,” Ellis said.

However, she added the party affiliation listing would be optional for school board candidates.

However, Wyoming School Board Association Executive Director Brian Farmer said since the board positions are non-partisan, his association believes party affiliations should not be included on ballots.

“We believe school boards are nonpartisan and that they should operate with the best interest of children in mind without regard to political party,” Farmer said.

Additionally, non-partisan elections run on a different cycle than partisan ones, the latter of which are paid for by the state. School board elections are paid for by school districts.

Lobbyist Marguerite Herman added school board candidates generally make no secret of their party affiliation in their campaign materials and said she feels the affiliation shouldn’t be added to the ballot for these candidates since they do not hold the same type of power as a city councilperson or county commissioner.

“I’ve always had a bit of a Pollyanna attitude, but it’s that you should leave your political party affiliation at the door when you walk into a school boardroom,” Herman said. “You have to think of the district as a whole.”

The committee passed the bill on a vote of 4-1, sending it to the Senate floor for consideration.

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Legislators Say New Taxes, Spending Cuts, Or Both Needed to Fund $300 Million Education Deficit

in News/Education
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Funding for schools and school construction are facing a $300 million annual deficit due to declining coal and natural gas production and prices and diminished school district property tax collections, two House leaders said Thursday.

Reps. Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment, and Steve Harshman, R-Casper, on Thursday issued a statement saying that new taxes, spending cuts or a combination of both will be needed to put education funding back on track.

Wyoming funds its schools with property taxes, but minerals pay 50% of those taxes, leaving the state’s homeowners with the fifth-lowest property taxes in the United States, said the statement by Harshman, chairman of the House Revenue Committee, and Paxton, chairman of the House Education Committee.

“Local school property taxes from minerals have declined dramatically,” the two said. “Our state’s mineral severance tax and Federal Mineral Royalties have dropped to the lowest levels in decades, and Wyoming has lost over 200 million tons of coal production per year in the last few years. That is a 50% drop.”

They added that this drop made it difficult for the Legislature to fulfill its duty to fund an “equitable” public education system for the state. Without further legislative action, Wyoming’s schools will use $331 million of the state’s “rainy day” fund over the next few years.

“To close the gap, the State must either create new revenues (taxes), redirect current funding streams, reduce spending (cuts) or a combination of these. Moderation in all these areas can produce a long-term permanent solution,” the representatives said.

The Wyoming House of Representatives has proposed a contingent increase in sales taxes that would only be implemented as a last resort if oil prices don’t rebound, spending isn’t reduced and revenue streams aren’t shifted to help the state’s savings account reach its minimum balances.

“Every problem has a solution. We think it is important to solve problems and that now is the time to do so, rather than putting off the structural challenges to our education system any longer,” the representatives said.

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Education Most Pressing Issue Of Session, Gordon Says In State of the State

in News/Mark Gordon/Economy/Education
9082

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Maintaining the state’s quality of education is the most important issue facing the Legislature during its general session, Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.

Gordon, in delivering his “state of the state” address to a joint session of the Legislature, told lawmakers the state could no longer rely on traditional sources of revenue to support education.

“We have relied, for years, on a funding model that is no longer sustainable,” he said. “The handwriting is on the wall. The can we kick down the road every year is broken. We have to deal with this issue.”

With the slump in the state’s mineral industry, particularly in coal production, funding for the state and its schools has dropped sharply. The school funding bill making its way through the Legislature would cut millions of dollars in how much the state gives to its schools and proposes new taxes if necessary to maintain funding.

But Gordon urged lawmakers, as they look at resolving the funding problems facing schools, to look at the issue more broadly than just one of revenue shortfalls.

“This is far more than a budget issue and I want our stakeholders and our communities to be involved in establishing a plan and vision,” he said.

Among the ideas he endorsed was a consolidation of early childhood learning programs, now found in four separate state agencies, into two agencies, the departments of Education and Family Services.

He also discussed the value of the Wyoming Innovation Network, a program launched in January to improve collaboration between the University of Wyoming and the state’s seven community colleges to better prepare students for the workplace.

“Education is changing,” he said. “Work is changing. People want, and need, more opportunities and approaches. Wyoming needs to respond. We know our financial challenges will likely necessitate it.”

Education was one of a number of issues Gordon touched upon during his address, which was delivered on the second day of the Legislature’s one-month in-person session.

Gordon also discussed the state’s financial problems, which forced him to cut state spending by $250 million in 2020 and propose another $500 million in budget cuts in his supplemental budget.

“Undeniably, we are entering more frugal times and we will have to continue to temper wants and emphasize needs,” he told lawmakers. “It is now your turn to consider how best to meet the needs of our people without burdening the generations to come.”

Much of the state’s financial troubles can be traced to slumps in the state’s energy and mineral industries and Gordon said the policies of President Joe Biden could further threaten those industries.

“In just a few weeks, through a series of executive orders, cabinet appointments and policy announcements, we are facing a clear and present threat to our long-term core industries,” he said. “All decisions from D.C. must now pass a superficial, climate litmus test that ignores jobs, cost, reliability and in many cases, real climate solutions. In D.C., they claim to follow the science, but they adopt policies that resemble science fiction.”

Gordon said while he looks forward to the contributions the wind and solar power industries can make to the state, he continues to support a diversified approach to meeting power needs.

“To achieve meaningful climate goals, and provide a resilient affordable energy supply, fossil fuels, coupled with a commitment to improving the ways we utilize them, must remain a substantial supply option,” he said. “I will continue to fight for our state’s future and defend the right to responsibly develop all of our resources.”

Despite financial problems and the continuing coronavirus pandemic, the state is strong, Gordon said, adding that the Legislature will need to remain focused to help move Wyoming past the pandemic with legislation aimed at encouraging existing businesses, economic development and luring new business to the state.

“I am sure there will be temptations to get sidetracked with politically oriented legislation, but this year, we have to keep our eye on the ball,” he said. “Because we are only going to have one chance to turn this welcomed spring into a thriving summer and a bountiful future.”

Gordon thanked the state’s residents, particularly state employees, health care workers and teachers, for their hard to work to keep the state moving during the worst of the past year.

“Today I can say, with pride and confidence, that the state of our state is strong,” he said. “Not because our economy is as robust as it was a year ago, for that’s certainly not the case. Not because we are free of this dreadful virus, because it is still a pain. Not because we have solved all of our budget problems, for we have yet to face that piper.

“It is because we are the people we are: weathered, tested and resilient,” he continued. “We are a stubborn people, unwilling to concede during tough times. It is that resolute spirit that is our greatest asset. That, I believe, will see us through these times.”

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Community College District Wants $3M For Sheridan College If Gillette College Approved; Legislator Disappointed

in News/Education
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Officials with the Northern Wyoming Community College District are asking that Sheridan College be given $3 million per year in state funds if a new community college district is established to support Gillette College.

Walter Tribley, president of the Northern Wyoming Community College District, sent a letter to several legislators on Friday urging them to make the allocation part of a bill that would create the new Gillette Community College District.

Sheridan College and Gillette College are now part of the Northern Wyoming Community College District. Tribley, in his letter to legislators supporting the bill, Gov. Mark Gordon and community college officials, said if Gillette College wins its own district, Sheridan College will lose $3 million a year.

“Without this assurance, a bill to create a new college district would irreparably harm one of the mainstays of education in Wyoming, Sheridan College,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Cowboy State Daily.

However, Tribley’s letter, delivered just days before the bill is scheduled to get a hearing in the Senate Education Committee, came as a surprise to one of the bill’s primary sponsors, Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette.

“To me, if there’s going to be a discussion about any harm that’s been done to Sheridan College, it needs to be done after Campbell County has voted to become an independent community college district,” he said Saturday. “To throw it in now seems to me to be very premature.”

Backers of the new district have been working since the summer to clear the hurdles necessary for its creation. The Wyoming Community College Commission in November approved Campbell County’s application for the district. The district’s creation must now be approved by the Legislature and then by the voters of Campbell County.

The bill providing legislative approval, Senate File 83, is to be reviewed by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

In his letter, Tribley said he has been publicly supportive of the concept, but he felt he needs to speak up to point out the problems the new district would cause for Sheridan College, chief among them the reduction of income.

“This negative consequence has been ignored and/or dismissed by those who so adamantly support a division,” he wrote. “We must stop ignoring this inconvenient truth and begin moving toward a solution.”

“We are far enough along in this process, I would truly like to see the conversation arrive at a point where both I and the NWCCD Board of Trustees could support welcoming an eighth community college in Gillette to our system in a way that ensures both the new and existing colleges a solid opportunity for success,” he added.

Tribley proposed the $3 million annual allocation would be in place for five years or until the new district receives accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, whichever comes first. The Higher Learning Commission accredits community college and universities in a 19-state region.

Accreditation is required for Gillette College to become independent of Sheridan College. Wasserburger said while accreditation is normally a three- to six-year process, officials believe they can win accreditation within three years because Gillette College’s programs have already been accredited through Sheridan College.

In exchange for the funding, Tribley said, Sheridan College will distribute to Gillette College any revenue generated by enrollment there and help the new college toward success.

“By providing stability funding to Sheridan College, it would ensure a healthy partner to help shepherd Gillette College toward a successful beginning as a standalone district,” the letter said. “Without such support, it would cripple the ability of Sheridan College to continue collaborative work throughout the state.”

Tribley told the sponsors of the bill that if they did not respond to him by noon Monday, he would take that as an indication they do not support his position.

Wasserburger took exception to the deadline, especially given the fact that such funding decisions are ultimately made by the Joint Appropriations Committee.

“I was very saddened by the letter,” he said. “I felt that the letter was inappropriate. I can’t say the Legislature will give $15 million to Sheridan College. What he is asking me to do, I am powerless to do.”

Feb. 19, 2021

Dear Sen.’s Wasserburger and Driskill and Rep.’s Barlow and Harshman,

In response to the next step in the effort to separate Gillette College from the Northern Wyoming Community College District, I have made every effort to offer advice, engage in dialogue, and generally attempt to refrain from being any type of barrier or naysayer. I have publicly applauded Campbell County for supporting its college so strongly. I have and will continue to put the interests of all current and future students, whether they are in Johnson, Campbell, or Sheridan Counties, at the center of my decision-making.

At this time, SF0083, as it is currently written, is not something I can support. Nor can I remain silent any longer. It has been calculated both by our own CFO and by the Wyoming Community College Commission CFO that, should a split happen, Sheridan College stands to lose approximately $3 million in funding annually without an immediate means to recover this loss. The $3 million contributes in part to infrastructure-related costs that remain and will be downsized considerably through the transition. This negative consequence has been ignored and/or dismissed by those who so adamantly support a division. We must stop ignoring this inconvenient truth and begin moving toward a solution.

I am not one to think that if the current effort fails, this will be the end of the attempts to separate, or that our partnership will not be strained, potentially to the point of jeopardizing student access and success. We are far enough along in this process, I would truly like to see the conversation arrive at a point where both I and the NWCCD Board of Trustees could support welcoming an eighth community college in Gillette to our system in a way that ensures both the new and existing colleges a solid opportunity for success.

To get there, I would ask that you amend SF0083 to include $3 million annually in transitional funding for Sheridan College for a period of five years or until the new college district receives accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, whichever happens first. In return, Sheridan College would distribute to the new college district, through an MOU, the revenue generated by enrollment at Gillette College. This would allow the new administration the opportunity to plan realistically as they put in place a workforce and the systems needed to earn accreditation status. These are the beginnings of a contractual relationship that would exist between the two colleges during the transition period. More details will need to be worked out, but service to students must remain the top priority and all students deserve stability and certainty.

By providing stability funding to Sheridan College, it would ensure a healthy partner to help shepherd Gillette College toward a successful beginning as a standalone district. Without such support, it would cripple the ability of Sheridan College to continue collaborative work with partners throughout the State. A key example would be our role in a consortia with Central Wyoming College and Eastern Wyoming College on a mobile meat processing program. Another example includes SC playing a leadership role in the programming underlying a successful launch of the Wyoming Innovation Network, a key first initiative being a statewide software development program whose curriculum is largely being developed by SC faculty. Without this assurance, a bill to create a new college district would irreparably harm one of the mainstays of education in Wyoming, Sheridan College.

There is urgency in my request. We may have a special Board of Trustees meeting early this week to discuss this bill. I am happy to engage with you in the effort to make SF0083 successful and something that will work for Wyoming. I would ask for your specific feedback per my request by 12:00 p.m., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Receiving no response will be recognized as unsupportive. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Walter A. Tribley, PhD

President, Northern Wyoming Community College District

Cc: Governor Gordon; Lachelle Brant, Governor’s Education Policy Advisor; Campbell, Johnson, and Sheridan County Legislators; NWCCD Board of Trustees; Gillette College Advisory Board; Sheridan College in Johnson County Advisory Board; Community College Presidents; Wyoming Community College Commission Executive Director Sandy Caldwell; Erin Taylor, Wyoming Assoc. of Community College Trustees Executive Director; Campbell County Commissioners; Mayor of Gillette; NWCCD Cabinet; NWCCD Attorney

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Balow, Other State Superintendents Ask Biden to Reconsider Energy Lockdown

in Energy/News/Education
8889

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow has joined four other western state school superintendents in asking President Joe Biden to reconsider his recent energy lockdown.

Balow was joined by her colleagues from North Dakota, Montana, Alaska and Utah in sending a letter to the president telling him the moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal lands would decimate school funding in their states.

“It is unusual that state education leaders would be in a position to warrant this letter,” send the letter, which was sent Wednesday. “We write to oppose the actions taken to ban oil and gas leases on federal land and to curtail production and transmission of the commodities.”

Biden issued an executive order in late January halting new oil and gas leasing on federal land to allow the Department of Interior to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal leasing program and existing fossil fuel leases.

But the school chiefs noted that in their states, schools depend on income from energy production.

“As state education chiefs we have appreciated generous access to your education transition team and we had multiple opportunities to discuss schools safely reopening, student well-being, and academic priorities,” the letter said. “It is imperative that we bring to light the arbitrary and inequitable move to shut down oil and gas production on federal lands in our states that depend on revenues from various taxes, royalties, disbursements, and lease payments to fund our schools, community infrastructure and public services.”

The letter specifically noted that in Wyoming, the oil and natural gas industry contributed $740 million in K-12 education funding and $28 million to the state’s higher education system in 2019.

Almost all, 92%, of Wyoming’s natural gas comes from federal lands, as does 51% of the oil produced in the state.

“The ban translates into the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for education and 13,300 direct jobs in a state of 500,000,” the letter said.

For Montana, $30 million in revenue and more than 3,000 jobs are at risk because of the moratorium, the letter said.

In North Dakota, the lease moratorium would result in 13,000 lost jobs over four years, along with $600 million in lost tax revenue and a $750 million loss in personal income. North Dakota’s oil and gas industry accounts for 24,000 direct jobs in the state.

In Utah, $72 million in revenue and 11,000 jobs are at stake. 

In Alaska, over $24 million in state revenue is tied to federal leases for oil and natural gas, along with 3,500 jobs.

“As state education chiefs, we place equity and quality at the forefront of policy making,” the letter said. “We care deeply about clean air and clean water for future generations. And, we advocate fiercely for adequate funding for all students in all schools. Reform of the industry is necessary and can be accomplished, but not by abruptly restricting industries that define our culture and the generate revenue on which so many rely.” 

A University of Wyoming study commissioned by the Legislature concluded that a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal land could reduce Wyoming’s production by $872 million per year, costing the state more than $300 million a year in tax revenue.

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Rep. Albert Sommers: Don’t Blame Education For Reductions to General Funded State Agencies

in News/Education
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By Rep. Albert Sommers, Sublette Examiner

In Wyoming newspapers recently, articles related to K12 education funding have referred to our “Cadillac education system,” and have quoted a legislator claiming that “Everything we cut out of every agency, every program – mental health, substance abuse treatment, tax exemptions for veterans, home health care for seniors – all that money we cut just flows right into K12 education.”

Let me address the last statement first. We have a $300 million annual deficit in K12 education funding, but Wyoming’s “Rainy Day” account, the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA), is the backstop for education funding.

When traditional revenues for K12 education are insufficient, we make up that shortfall by utilizing our savings, the LSRA. Wyoming is not cutting mental health services or any agency of state government and putting that money towards education funding.

This statement is simply not true. We can’t blame education funding for the reductions happening to the General Funded state agencies. Wyoming does have a shortfall in education funding, we are eroding our savings and we need to solve this challenge before our savings are gone.

As to the first statement, a “Cadillac education system” implies that we are driving a luxury model, but I disagree.

School finance in Wyoming has a long, complicated history that includes five significant Supreme Court decisions, with subsequent efforts by the Legislature to ensure that Wyoming’s K12 funding remains cost-based, while providing an adequate/equitable education to every child in Wyoming.

The State of Wyoming lost parts of four Supreme Court cases because the state either refused to provide an equitable funding model (Washakie decision) or refused to provide adequate K12 funding (Campbell decisions).

The Wyoming Supreme Court found that the State was NOT meeting its Constitutional mandate to our children in four different decisions. Finally, in the 2008 Campbell IV decision, the court ruled that “the legislature has in place a thorough and efficient educational structure funded from state wealth as required by our state constitution.”

Due to these court decisions, the Legislature goes through a process every five years to ensure that K12 funding remains adequate and equitable, or put more simply, remains constitutional. This legislative process is called recalibration, which means the Legislature is to recalibrate the funding model based upon current information. 

Wyoming hired a consultant firm, Picus and Oden, during the 2005 recalibration effort, and their funding model, with modifications, has been utilized to fund K12 education from that date forward. 

Picus and Oden identifies the elements of an adequate/equitable model and how much these elements cost, and then these consultants provide the Legislature with a model they believe meets the constitutional standard that the Wyoming Supreme Court required. 

This model is provided to school districts as a block grant, which means local school boards can determine the best way to utilize those funds based upon local priorities. Initially in 2005, the Legislature funded the modified Picus and Oden model more richly than the consultants recommended, and this lasted through 2017. 

However, in 2018 the resources provided by the Legislative model dropped to the level of the consultant’s (constitutional) model. In essence, since 2018 we have arguably been funding education at its constitutional level. You can call this funding system a Cadillac, an F-350 or whatever you want, but this is the vehicle the Supreme Court mandated Wyoming to drive.

In 2020, the Legislature fulfilled its obligation by conducting a recalibration of the K12 funding model, utilizing the same consultants, Picus and Oden, who have provided Wyoming a constitutional model since 2005. 

After months of study by multiple consulting firms, Picus and Oden produced their new Evidenced-Based funding model. This new Evidenced-Based model would cost the State about $21 million more than the current Legislative model. 

Further, in their official report, Picus and Oden wrote, “The revenue declines have challenged the Legislature. And by extension, our team of researchers have searched for the most cost-effective options to provide the elements of the basket of goods and services.” 

When pressed in committee, the consultants stated that their model provided the most cost-efficient means of providing a constitutional K12 funding model for Wyoming. Picus and Oden view their model as the minimum needed to provide an adequate/equitable education to every child in Wyoming.

I served as co-chairman of the Recalibration Committee and we passed HB61 as a vehicle to start a discussion in Wyoming about K12 funding. 

The bill reduces the current Legislative model by $100 million (6.5 percent) and references a sales tax for education. Can the Legislature reduce K12 funding below what the consultants recommend and remain constitutional? Perhaps. 

Can the Legislature cut the entire $300 million shortfall (20 percent) from education funding and maintain a constitutional K12 funding system? Absolutely not. 

There is more than one solution to this education funding shortfall. My solution would be to reduce spending, divert some streams of money headed for savings, continue to spend from the “Rainy Day” fund and impose a one-cent sales tax for education that would go into effect only after the “Rainy Day” fund is reduced to $650 million. 

When or if this “penny for education” is implemented, it will be important to protect local government’s sales tax options. I would hope the Supreme Court would view a comprehensive solution favorably, but that is up to them.

I will not support efforts to downgrade the constitutional priority of education through amendments to Wyoming’s Constitution. 

Roughly, 92,000 children are served by nearly 19,000 employees in over 300 schools in nearly every town in our state. 

In my opinion, education is the most important service that government provides to its citizens. 

Our Supreme Court stated in Campbell II (2001), “In addition to holding the constitution requires an equal educational opportunity for all Wyoming children, this court, in Campbell, held our constitution commands the legislature “to provide and fund an education system which is of a quality ‘appropriate for the times’” and that command goes well beyond simply allowing the legislature to dispense a minimal level of elementary and secondary education and then fund it as best it can amidst other competing priorities. 

Supporting an opportunity for a complete, proper, quality education is the legislature’s paramount priority; competing priorities not of constitutional magnitude are secondary, and the legislature may not yield to them until constitutionally sufficient provision is made for elementary and secondary education.”

Representative Albert Sommers represents House District 20

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Gen Z’ers and Millennials Believe Punctuation is Hostile

in News/Education
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By Jennifer Kocher, County 17

Anthony Monteleone learned the hard way what happens when you throw in a period at the end of a text.

The Campbell County High School senior had been having a good day, he said, and wanted to randomly share the thought with his buddies. Without thinking about it, he added a period at the end and hit send. 

Immediately, his pals wanted to know what was wrong.

“Everyone thought I was being sarcastic or something,” he said with a laugh. “I really just wanted to say that I was having a good day.”

To many people above the age of 30, the period is a seemingly innocuous punctuation symbol used to mark the end of the sentence. 

To Gen Z’ers and millennials, however, it’s considered a form of aggression when used in a text, or worse, a sign that a person is taking themselves far too seriously.

Text messages, Monteleone explained, are meant to be loose thoughts or casual conversations between friends. Adding a period, therefore, makes it “a serious conversation,” which, breaks with text etiquette and apparently puts some teens on edge because like all caps, or capital letters, it feels like they’re being yelled at.

“Most people reserve a period for when they want to make a serious point,” he said.

Some people are much more offended by text punctuation than others, explained CCHS junior Danielle Beightol, who said she doesn’t put a lot of thought into the underlying emotions that text punctuation may or may not convey.

“It depends on the person or group of people,” she further clarified. In her case, it’s not really a big deal, she said, because she doesn’t put a lot of credence into over-analyzing the purpose and tone of her texts. For her, it’s just a loose mode of conversation and a way to communicate otherwise mundane info between pals.

“Others read too deeply into it,” she said.

Monteleone said he thinks that teens overanalyze texts because they lack the verbal cues and human-to-human contact, so some people are overly cautious in the absence of context.

“You learn to compensate in a different format,” he said. “You scramble for the tiniest details to convey tone.”

Both teens clarified that this no-period etiquette is reserved for their peers, and both use punctuation freely when communicating with adults, teachers, or bosses, which they see as a form of professionalism that transcends whether or not a person is cool.

Likewise, this non-punctuation stance is reserved for text messages, both further clarified, and doesn’t apply to schoolwork or even posting on social media.

It also doesn’t correlate to reading books, Monteleone noted.

“It’s not like we read a book and feel like we’re being yelled at,” he said with a laugh. “We understand the difference.”

Ellipses, or the dot-dot-dot (…) as it’s informally known, is a much more casual, drawn-out cousin of the period used to indicate the intentional omission of a word or information to follow. For this reason, it’s much “softer” and denotes a “pause in thought” as opposed to an abrupt hard stop, Beightol and Monteleone both explained.

Likewise, exclamation marks, are dully acceptable despite their otherwise excitable and dramatic role in a sentence. But unlike the period, teens don’t put much emotional stock in the punctuation mark.

“We don’t take them seriously,” Beightol said. “They’re just kinda funny or sarcastic.”

Meanwhile, CCHS English teacher Tim Bessett was surprised to learn about the no-period rule, which until yesterday, he was blithely unaware.

“I had absolutely no idea,” Bessett said, noting he’s one of those uncool adults who texts in complete sentences with punctuation. His students nodded. They get it. When communicating with him, they always make a point to properly punctuate.

After talking to his students, Bessett learned that the length of a text message or whether it contains a period seems to have the biggest impact, at times, more so than even the body of the text. For example, he cited one student who told him that she was really put off by her mother who responded to her text question with “OK.” The capitals, on top of a period, put the teen into a headspin.

“She thought her mother was being aggressive or snooty about the request,” Bessett explained.

The looseness of grammar in texts and social media posts appears to not only be relegated to casual communication, however. As an English teacher, who also teaches theater, senior speech and speech and debate and has been at CCHS for 16 years, Bessett said the lack of attention to punctuation is becoming an ongoing battle that every year seems to get a little worse.

“I will have a number of students who can’t use punctuation,” he said. “There’s definitely a breakdown.”

Particularly, he sees students struggling with punctuation, capitalization, fragments, and run-on sentences, skills his students spend a lot of time rebuilding when they first enter his class.

Several studies seem to confirm Bessett’s belief that the way young people – and even adults – correspond on social media tends to work against grammatical skills and proper sentence structure as texting becomes almost like a second language.

The quick back and forth “culture of mobile communication” inevitably has compromised traditional, cultural writing, according to S. Shyam Sundar, professor of communications and co-director of Pennsylvania State University’s Media Effects Research Laboratory, which conducted the 2012 “Techspeak” study of 13- to 17 year olds.

Sundar and his researchers found that prevalent texting has eroded the foundation of basic grammar, suggesting that the teens can’t “code switch” between standard grammar and the abbreviations used in texts. Moreover, researchers found that tweens between 10 to 14 who are text savvy tended to score worse on grammar tests.

Regardless, as an English teacher, Bessett spends a lot of time helping students rebuild the skills, so they’ll, in essence, be fluent in two languages that serve two entirely different purposes.

For their part, Monteleone and Beightol say that both skills are useful, and they find it easy to switch back and forth between the two forms of communication.

It’s just another way to convey information, they shrug. No period necessary.

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