CHEYENNE — State officials and representatives of the energy industry will be asked to develop a course of study focusing on the energy industry and natural resources to be taught in Wyoming schools under a bill approved Thursday by the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee.
The bill, which will now be considered in the Legislature’s general session beginning Jan. 8, is intended to give students more appreciation and knowledge of Wyoming’s resources and opportunities, according to Nick Agopian of Devon Energy, who led an initiative with other energy officials to develop the bill.
The governor’s policy office would oversee development of the curriculum.
The bill had a few opponents.
“We have to be cautious as a legislature not to influence the development of curriculum,” Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said after the meeting. Rothfuss thinks the concept is good, “but I don’t believe it’s the role of the Legislature.”
The bill would provide $75,000 from the School Foundation program to pay for professional expertise to assist in the creation of the curriculum. The initiative would be a joint effort of representatives from energy and natural resource industries, related member organizations, state education agencies, public education stakeholders and the governor’s policy office.
The curriculum would ensure a balanced approach to energy and natural resource development,” the bill states.
Details such as how the program and related materials would be funded and at what grade level the curriculum would be taught would be worked out by the program’s developers.
The curriculum committee would be required to report the results of its work to the Joint Education Interim Committee by Dec. 1.
The Joint Education Committee also approved a measure that would remove language from state law that specifies the GED as the high school equivalency exam recognized in the state. The bill would allow other, similar equivalency tests to be recognized in Wyoming.
The company that administers the GED recently went from a nonprofit organization to an almost privatized industry, Matthew Petry, deputy director and chief financial officer the Community College Commission, told the committee. In addition, GED tests will only be offered via computer at double the cost and only at specific sites by 2014.
Other companies that market equivalency tests may not have such restrictions, and may offer similar or more competitive prices.
State law currently obligates the commission to use that firm’s test, which essentially eliminates the consideration of competing vendors, Petry said. Several other states also are exploring options to the GED.
Legislators also passed a school finance bill, but tabled for later discussion a section that would give the state’s chief information officer and the Department of Enterprise Technology Services access to retirement information that is currently unavailable to them. The information could help legislators make decisions about allocating funds to school districts.
“We would essentially build a model in an attempt to anticipate how many vacancies would be a function of retirement that would then involve a cost to replace those individuals,” said Tom Gallagher, who manages research and planning for the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.
The data includes information such as where people grew up and where they retire that plays into statistics about retirement behavior patterns and rates — information that raised privacy concerns for some lawmakers.
“Do we really need to unleash this data?” asked Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper. Jennings said he thinks the idea would open the door to providing information about Wyoming people to the federal government.
Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Lingle, said he doesn’t see it as a local control issue but emphasized the need to be careful to ensure security and privacy. “But I do think it’s important that we understand the labor market pressures as we move forward so that we can make good decisions,” he added.
Legislators plan to consider that provision of the finance bill during the general session.
The portion of the bill that passed includes cost adjustments for the educational materials and energy components of the block grant funding model, which determines allocations to districts. Prices of natural gas and electricity have declined while the costs of educational supplies have increased.