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Pinedale Online > News > October 2013 > Legislative update from Representative Albert Sommers
Legislative update from Representative Albert Sommers
Select Committee on Education Accountability and Joint Education Committee meetings
by Representative Albert Sommers, House District 20, Wyoming
October 27, 2013

Hello Sublette County, I was in Cheyenne October 22-25, attending the Select Committee on Education Accountability and the Joint Education Committee meetings.

At the Select Committee meeting on Tuesday the 22nd, we received testimony on the October Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) report. Budgets in state government are based upon this report. Over the next three fiscal years (the remainder of the current 2013-2014 biennium and the 2015-2016 biennium), the October CREG report reduced projected revenues directed to the state's traditional spending accounts by $76.4 million, primarily due to lower production of natural gas and coal.

In contrast, the General Fund and Budget Reserve Account received $93.3 million from revenue, primarily realized from capital gains, in excess of the FY 2013 projections. This means the state is in relatively good shape headed into the legislative budget session in February. In addition, the Select Committee heard reports on the roll-out of the K12 School Accountability Model and its various indicators.

I have reservations about this accountability model, because of its infringement on local control and over-reliance on standardized tests. We heard the results of the Professional Judgment Panel, whose job was to turn a conceptual model into one with actual numbers, based upon Wyoming data. I take my hat off to those educators, 29 of them from around the state, who put numbers and ratings to the accountability system. Sublette County was fortunate to have someone serving on that panel.

The accountability system rates schools into four categories: exceeding expectation, meeting expectation, partially meeting expectation, and not meeting expectation. In the pilot run of this model, over 17% of Wyoming schools were in the "not meeting expectations" category, and this fact led to the next discussion.

The Wyoming Department of Education does not have the capacity to provide support to these struggling schools, but there is an effort being undertaken to bring a broad based group together to discuss how best to address this issue. I hope this discussion includes local districts, and is not conducted just at a statewide level, and I further hope this accountability system focuses on supports, rather than a system of punitive consequences. I still maintain that parents, local school boards and local educators know communities the best and know what is best for the children in those communities. I think the state has an opportunity to provide some needed support to struggling schools, if the state does not become overly prescriptive.

The most interesting discussion on day two of the Select Committee meeting was the one revolving around which state level assessment will replace PAWS.

Wyoming was headed down the path of being a member of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a multi-state group, but concerns about a national assessment leading to a national curriculum, student data security, and legislation needed to change to any new system has put that idea on hold until more thought has been put into what Wyoming wants. Educators and regulators want an assessment with a fast return of results (something lacking in PAWS), developed with Wyoming educator input, aligned to Wyoming standards, developed with a formative component (like the MAP test), comparability with other schools and states, and online usability. The Smarter Balanced product provides these instruments, but Wyoming could also create its own assessment with these same instruments, only the cost would be higher.

I would prefer a Wyoming based model, because Wyoming educators could control its development. The Smarter Balanced version purports Wyoming involvement, but in that scenario we would be one of many, and Wyoming usually has little influence in a national discussion. I am a paid observer to the Select Committee, not a committee member, but I would be interested in your feedback on the next generation of Wyoming school assessment, because I believe there will likely be action on that issue during the upcoming session. The Leader (e.g., principal) Accountability Model was also discussed, but it has not been completely fleshed out by the Advisory Committee and the consultants.

The first day of the Joint Education Meeting was on the 24th, and the biggest discussion revolved around a cost-basis report of the K12 school funding model. Are we funding local schools at the appropriate level between the years when the funding model is recalibrated? In short, is the funding model keeping up with inflation? Schools have not received an External Cost Adjustment (ECA) in a number of years. The committee, with my support, passed a motion to recommend to the Joint Appropriations Committee that schools receive some increase through an ECA to help compensate for inflation.

On day two of the Joint Education meeting we listened to more reports and examined several bills. The committee passed several bills including: requiring cameras in school buses to help catch red light drive-bys, funding a grant program for early childhood education, allowing the Hathaway Scholarship to be used for summer school, lifting the moratorium on Alternative Schools, and increasing the Hathaway Scholarship by a yet to be identified percentage. These bills will be brought to the budget session as committee bills, which gives them a greater chance of passage. I am really excited about the early childhood education bill and the Alternative school bill. An issue on every educator and parentís mind is school safety, especially after the tragedies in the last year. Governor Mead commissioned a panel to look at school safety in Wyoming, and they presented their recommendations to the committee. The number one recommendation of this panel was to make funding available to Wyoming school districts for School Resource Officer programs.

We had a very interesting presentation by Susan Payne from Coloradoís Attorney Generalís Office on Coloradoís Safe2Tell program. This is an enhanced tip hotline, which provides anonymity to the callers.

"The focus of Safe2Tell is to ensure that every Colorado student, parent, teacher and community member has access to a safe and anonymous way to report any concerns about their safety or the safety of others. Safe2Tell accomplishes this by early intervention and prevention through awareness, education and accountable follow-up." There was considerable discussion about the recommendations and various programs associated with school and student safety, and I am convinced legislation will be drafted to move forward some of these recommendations.

Respectfully submitted,
Albert Sommers
House District 20, Wyoming

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