By Jasmine Hall
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — While State Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder said the state’s new plan for education reform was based upon “voices of thousands of education stakeholders across the state” and collaboration, leaders of some statewide education groups said they had no input during the plan’s development.
Wyoming School Boards Association Executive Director Brian Farmer said Degenfelder didn’t seek input from his organization or the Wyoming Association of School Administrators.The same was said by Wyoming Education Association President Grady Hutcherson.
“I am disheartened that WDE has developed this strategic plan, outlining sweeping reform spanning the next four years, without collaborating with WEA,” Hutcherson said in a prepared statement. “We represent 5,000+ educators across the state. Our education employees are the experts in education. It’s imperative that their voices shape the policy guiding our students’ educational experience.”
Hutcherson was joined by Farmer in expressing his disbelief that they weren’t included and said they align with some of the initiatives proposed by the state superintendent, but others took them by surprise.
Farmer said they are in favor of implementing the goals of Gov. Mark Gordon’s Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education (RIDE) advisory group and the State Board of Education’s Profile of a Graduate, as well as the reduction of regulation for the districts. He is an advocate for increasing civic education and valuing and supporting teachers and all school staff.
Overall, the executive director said there are many points made in the plan that align with the WSBA.
WEA also was supportive of the idea of assembling a cabinet of teachers to advise the state superintendent.
“Too often, policy affecting education is crafted and implemented without the voice of true education professionals guiding those policy decisions,” Hutcherson said.“Anything we can do to further educator voice in shaping policy impacting education is a step in the right direction.”
However, there were concerns when it came to funding charter schools, overstepping local control and weighing in on alleged political bias in the school system.
“The number one piece that’s concerning is a focus on choice. I think our belief is that public dollars should go toward public schools, and so that really baffles me why there would be a focus that would potentially divert those dollars from public schools,” said Farmer. “Also, I think when you talk about just a blind support for that, then you’ll end up with a case somewhat similar to our three new charter schools that were just authorized.
“Those estimates that have come out of the Legislature are that those three schools alone will cost the state, I think it was $14 million. And it could be as high as $21 million. So, those are really just out of line with other spending. It is something I think we have to be careful and deal with on a case-by-case basis.”
He said there are great charter schools in Laramie, Cheyenne and other towns that are already partnered with Wyoming school districts.
He said there are choices that exist, but “not every choice should be supported just because it is a choice.”
“It’s alarming to see a plan from the Wyoming Department of Education, the public government agency tasked with running our public school system, releasing a strategic plan prioritizing expanding education choice for families ‘both within and outside the public system,’” Hutcherson said. “Our public schools are underfunded. We are facing mounting difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified education employees. .”
Overburdening the system
The WEA president added his group’s doubts regarding parental empowerment goals, such as cataloging all materials teachers use in lessons. He said it sounds good in theory, as a good way to keep parents informed, yet “in practice, it’s impractical to put one more requirement on already overburdened teachers.”
“This system doesn’t provide the information or empowerment parents deserve,” he said. “Parents gain insight and remain engaged in their children’s education by having conversations with their children’s teachers. That mechanism for parental engagement already exists, and it doesn’t place an additional administrative burden on educators or create additional costs for districts, and potentially the state, to work with a national vendor to create a statewide curriculum and materials website.”
Although these were considered efforts to prevent political bias, Farmer said the state agency has to be clear it’s not talking about favoring one group over another. He said if they need to take politics out, then it should be regardless of perspective.
He said there are also many processes that exist in Wyoming school districts to address curriculum, library books or access to student records that are appropriate and consistent with federal laws. He said the Department of Education doesn’t have the authority to tell a school district how to operate.
Farmer said he hopes they don’t overstep their authority, and they make sure they’re incorporating all stakeholders to develop their plans. He explained how every school district has its own strategic plan developed with local communities, which he believes needs to be taken into consideration.