Wyoming Liberty Group
Recalculating Education Governance
- Start by taking government out of the equation.
Fallout from legislation passed in 2013 commonly known as SF104, which removed most of the duties of the elected State Superintendent of Public Education and was later ruled unconstitutional by Wyoming’s Supreme Court, has legislators wondering what to do about the governance of the state’s education system. Discussion during a recent Wyoming Joint Education Committee meeting indicates that maybe, instead of looking for ways to further centralize and make the system more accountable to government, it is time to decentralize and return accountability to where it belongs: to parents and teachers.
The meeting began with a presentation of the different types of education governance systems in states around the country. System types break down into two main groups—one that puts voters in charge and one that puts the governor in charge. No state has a system that improves student outcomes. This could be because no state has a system that puts parents in charge.
In seven states, voters elect the State Board of Education (SBE) and the SBE appoints the Chief State School officer, (ie. the rough equivalent of the Superintendent of Public Instruction). The governor has less power in this type of system.
In nine states, including Wyoming prior to SF104, the governor has more power. The governor appoints the State Board of Education but voters elected the Chief State School Officer. Since SF104, and following the countrywide trend toward the consolidation of even more power in the hands of the governor, the governor appoints both the SBE and the Chief State School officer. Eleven states plus Wyoming have this system.
Some states, such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, don’t bother with a SBE. Wyoming could also do away with the SBE but until parents are back in charge, an elected SBE would be a move in the right direction.
What was the focus of legislators on the Joint Education Committee during the meeting?
While some legislators tiptoed around the idea of less bureaucracy by suggesting a pared down Department of Education, others focused on: a larger bureaucracy, how to insulate the system from politics and the need to clarify who has the authority to make policy for the system—the Chief State School Officer, the governor or the legislature.
The many parents in the room remained as though invisible to these legislators. For example, Sen. Rothfuss (D-Laramie) called for input from the “entire education community,” including the SBE, the governor, the legislature and the superintendent of public education. These are whom he considers the “vested interests.” Senator Rothfuss did not clarify what these stakeholders were vested in, compared to parents who are vested in the life success of their own children.
Throughout the discussion, parents were forgotten; perhaps forgotten as well is that education is a service just like any other. In the free market, a good service survives and a bad service dies, all without the help of a bureaucracy. We need a system that respects the responsibility and the ability of parents to make choices about what is best for each of their own children. We also need a system that lets educational alternatives rejected by parents die.
- Legislation that legitimizes and supports broad educational options including public charter schools, homeschooling, opportunity scholarships, tax credit scholarships, an innovative private school system and legal multi-family homeschooling.
- Legislation to change the public school standards process—providing parents with more representation in committee work before standards are presented to the state board.
- Legislation to elect the State Board of Education, which would give parents more direct representation.
- A recommendation that the committee reject all education schemes further eroding local control over education, such as nationalized standards or nationalized high states testing.
Nationalization is a bad idea. Centrally controlled education, as we see today across the country, is a proven failure. Parental control through choice will create a system accountable to those directly and vitally affected by the quality of education and this will lead to better results.
We can bring excellence to Wyoming education by opening up opportunity. The last thing we need is coercively enforced, misplaced and misinformed government micro-management. A uniform system is the wrong way to go—one size does not fit all
Parents must be able to vote with their feet for an alternative that works for each of their very special children. It is time to return accountability to where it belongs.