Week Two of the Budget Session

Good afternoon,

Week two of the legislative session is almost in the books. Unfortunately, there is not much good news to report. Initial attempts to restore the external cost adjustment (ECA) failed in the House and Senate. On Thursday, superintendents from small, medium, and large districts appeared in front of the House Education Committee with compelling testimony to restore the ECA and cuts to education. As one of five State Land and Investment Board (SLIB) members, I testified about how the excellent quality of our schools enables us to attract and keep families as we diversify the economy of our state to include new sectors such as technology. The education committee members on both sides were receptive and sympathetic. As evidenced by the failed amendments, however, the majority of the legislative body are casting votes of austerity in education and all other areas.

Superintendent Beard (Guernsey) testifies at House Ed Committee
Superintendent Beard (Guernsey) testifies at House Ed Committee

The School Facilities Commission (on which I sit as ex-officio) met this week and, as predicted, the outlook is not good. Discussions (with no firm decisions) are already taking place regarding how to keep up with major maintenance and construction priorities. Also, a bill is working its way through the legislature that merges the School Facilities Department with State Construction Management.

Finally, and as of today, the WDE agency budget has been cut by nearly 8%.  This goes well beyond the global cuts we expected and reduces our staff by 7-8 positions in the next biennium. In some areas we will have difficulty making maintenance of effort and supporting the expected duties of the agency.  We will work to restore some of these cuts in areas where it could cause issues with federal funds flowing to districts.

Despite this grim news, I remain hopeful.  No matter what, we will look for the silver lining and continue to grow education in ways that benefit our kids and strengthen our future as a state. The assessment bill is moving through the legislature as are several other bills that keep us focused on doing the best we can for kids.

It’s difficult to stay up on all of the amendments–the process is very fast. Here are a few that may be of interest and are related to the ECA:

*Please note that these may be voted on or changed even as I write this update.

State Board (SBE) Meeting Clarification
The State Board meets next week in Cheyenne and an update (part of the board packet) from board liaison, Brent Young, is attached. I include this in light of some confusion around the agenda item “ELA Extended Standards (SPED).” Our intent is to open the standards to rectify two items:
  1. The extended (Special Ed) standards are not the standards approved by the review committee during the 2014 adoption. Nor are they are not the standards that went out for public comment. We plan to ensure the extended standards are reflective of the committee work and are the product approved for promulgation.
  2. Several ELA standards review committee members noticed potential misalignment of extended standards with regular ed standards. We want to ensure alignment of standards only by adjusting extended standards, not regular ed standards.

I appreciate superintendents bringing concerns to our attention and I will keep you apprised of the outcome of the discussion. There is no plan to open up ELA standards for review beyond this narrow scope of work. I have encouraged the SBE to establish a process for reviewing standards out of cycle to ensure we are only opening standards when necessary and according to a scope of work. It is my hope that the discussion next week opens the door to further dialogue.

I look forward to seeing many of you this weekend and next week in Cheyenne!

Here are the memos to be released on Monday, February 22, 2016:

Jillian