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Joint Education Committee

Education is already state’s top expense — why spend more?

in Column/Education
2534

By R. Ray Peterson, Cowley, WY

I never served on the Senate Education Committee, but participated in many discussions on school funding formulas, education expenses, school construction, curriculum, teacher salaries and administrative costs. 

I did have the opportunity to serve six years on the Appropriations Committee and on the latest Recalibration Committee as well as the School Facilities Select Committee and so, like most legislators voting on these matters, I couldn’t help but learn about the issues facing education.

Recently the Joint Education Committee met and narrowly passed a proposal for a $19 million increase to the education funding model. This bill will go to the full Legislature in February for a vote. 

I question the need for yet another increase to education funding, considering the fact spending on our public schools is already the largest of all the state’s budget expenditures. In addition, an annual automatic adjustment to education to account for inflation already adds $15 million a year to the cost. So Wyoming ranks No. 1 in our region for education spending and No. 5 in the country.

It leaves me shaking my head that the Education Committee is once again recommending even more spending increases. It begs the questions: Where will the money come from? Which budget will we rob from or what tax increase is coming? 

The explanation for the proposed increase from committee leaders was that Wyoming’s Supreme Court required education to be the Legislature’s top funding priority. My answer to that is that K-12 education is already the largest segment of our ever-growing state budget. 

Where we spent $1,234 per student in 1979, we are now spending $16,381 in 2019. The Legislature has elected to spend more than the funding model suggests every year since 2001. And yet we need to spend even more? Since 1979 our K-12 education budget has grown nearly 400 percent! 

Also consider that most school district superintendents in Wyoming — we have 48 — make more than our Governor

Folks, no one seems to driving this runaway train and sadly, I don’t see any stop to it. All of this leaves me with the question: How much do we need to spend or how much is enough for our schools to be happy enough to prevent them from suing the Legislature a fourth time. 

Personally, I say bring it. 

What evidence do our schools have that they are not our top priority? Most districts have new buildings, new buses, the highest starting salaries in the region, low class sizes, top-of-the-line benefits packages and the best students in the nation to work with. I for one grow tired of the threat of a law suit. Times have changed over the last 40 years and frankly, they do not have a leg to stand on. 

Finally, I would add this: If our Supreme Court rules again that our school districts need more money, then I would challenge our justices to balance our state budget. Are roads important? Water, sewer and other infrastructure that make our communities nice to live in, are they important? How about health care? Emergency services, law enforcement? 

I could go on and on with other budgets that will continue to be robbed in the name of education. Look at the numbers. Look at what we spend. Look at what we have spent with the funding increases over the last 40 years and then tell me with a straight face that more is needed to maintain the quality of our education. And please don’t tell me that I don’t believe in education as much as you do. Or that I just don’t understand how education works. I see what goes in and what comes out, and I’m left thinking that we can do much better.

AG’s opinion on computer standards is in

in News/Technology/Education
2387

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.” 

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