State lawmakers who supported legislation dramatically changing Wyoming’s public education leadership structure say the bill’s swift passage was necessary in order to make decisions about other bills.
Some opponents have concerns about Senate File 104’s constitutionality and have said the bill was fast-tracked in 12 days to limit public attention.
State House Speaker Tom Lubnau labeled such concerns “urban legend.” The Gillette Republican said the first bill to become law this year was introduced early in order to allow time to amend following bills so SF104 could be properly executed.
SF104 stripped the state superintendent of public instruction of administrative duties in the Wyoming Department of Education and gave them to the newly created director position within the agency.
The superintendent will continue to lead educator training, provide reports to state lawmakers and serve on state boards and commissions, among other things.
Lubnau said the timing of SF104 was important because the new leadership structure needed to be incorporated into this session’s budget bill. Legislators are working on allocations for the superintendent’s office and the new director’s office.
“Had the bill passed toward the end of the session [in early March], the superintendent would have had an agency without a budget, which doesn’t do anybody any good,” Lubnau said.
SF104 also affected two bills addressing education accountability, which designate duties among education officials according to the 2011 Wyoming Accountability in Education Act.
House Bill 91 outlines duties and responsibilities under the first phase of the act, which includes creating a system to rate schools. House Bill 72 addresses the second phase of the act, which includes teacher evaluations.
As originally introduced, HB91 would have shifted several administrative duties and funding from the Department of Education to the State Board of Education. The director position now makes that move unnecessary, according to lawmakers who reworked the bill last week.
The Legislature’s Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability had drafted the shift in administrative duties to the board in December. The change followed a report approved by the committee that outlined numerous instances in which the Department of Education failed to complete Legislature-mandated education accountability tasks.
Lawmakers cited the same concerns as reasons for introducing SF104. The governor-appointed director position and other changes in the bill are designed to get the accountability work back on track, lawmakers have said.
Senate President Tony Ross said SF104 went through the same process as any other bill.
“We had three full readings and a very impassioned and detailed debate on the bill,” Lubnau added.
He said lawmakers received a considerable volume of emails and lobbying. Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, co-chairman of the Education Accountability Committee and sponsor of SF104, agreed.
“We weren’t trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes,” Coe said. “I had 250 to 300 emails on the subject, so somebody knew about it out there.”
A bill at its fastest can go through the full process in four days, Lubnau said. In extreme cases, the Legislature can suspend rules to make it faster. A few years ago, lawmakers accidentally legalized gambling with some sloppy language in a bingo bill. They had to suspend rules in both houses and passed the revised bill in about a day, he said.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill has denied claims that she and her department have not complied with the legislative requirements to complete accountability work.
In a response to the report that prompted SF104, Hill wrote that much of the information in it was inaccurate or incomplete.
Hill told the Casper Star-Tribune it’s widely known the bill was fast-tracked.
“They did it because they could,” she said.
Everyone has to decide for themselves what they think happened, Hill said, adding she believes most people know. Hill said many have told her that legislators have not returned their calls and emails.
She added that the problem goes far beyond her and Senate File 104 in that constituents are not being listened to.
“I’m very concerned with the direction that we’re going in this state and the overreaching power of the Legislature,” Hill said.
“It’s a legislative session that’s been overreaching,” Hill added. “The Legislature has reached into the executive branch and the judiciary, and there hasn’t been a separation of powers.”
Hill also said legislators want to micromanage the Department of Education, just as they did with schools. They want control of educational matters that should be left to communities, parents, school boards, teachers and students, she said.