On Thursday, April 16, 2020 the Management Council convened to discuss interim topics. While the Management Council meets yearly to discuss these topics, this year’s meeting looked different in location and in context. Instead of meeting at the newly remodeled Capitol building, members of the Management Council and other committee chairs met remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic. These meetings typically only discuss which interim topics will be examined and to which committees they will be assigned. But, this year’s meeting included an address by Governor Gordon and discussion around the upcoming special session.
Special Session and COVID-19 Relief
The special session will address the coronavirus outbreak and the funds made available to the state of Wyoming through the Federal CARES Act. However, how the special session will be convened, and which branch will be responsible for the allocation of funds from the CARES Act has yet to be determined. The Governor has the authority to convene a special session. The legislature also has the authority to convene itself for a special session.
The discussion continues to evolve in terms of how the special session will be conducted remotely. For now, the understanding is that as long as leadership convenes at the Capitol, the rest of the legislature will be permitted to meet remotely. As the Wyoming Education Association’s understanding of how special session will be conducted develops, we will continue to keep our membership updated.
As for the allocation of funding from the CARES Act, there are three provisions from the U.S. Treasury Dept. dictating how these funds can be spent:
The CARES Act requires that the payments from the Coronavirus Relief Fund only be used to cover expenses that:
(1) are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID–19);
(2) were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020 (the date of enactment of the CARES Act) for the State or government; and
(3) were incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020, and ends on December 30, 2020.
Governor Gordon noted these parameters from the U.S. Treasury Department, and recognized that the funds distributed to the state are not to be utilized to replace lost revenue, but rather to assist agencies, businesses, hospitals, and individuals impacted by the coronavirus. At this time, there is still debate as to who will be able to distribute the CARES Act funds, whether that is the Governor or the legislature has yet to be made clear. Situated within the CARES Act is the Education Stabilization Fund, which allocates roughly $51 million for Wyoming K-12 schools and Community Colleges. The distribution of funds is based on specific formulas that include the share of funding under Title I, Pell Grant recipients as well as a portion designated for gubernatorial discretion. The Management Council plans to meet this Friday (April 24) and the following Friday (May 1) to move forward with COVID relief efforts. Specific tasks will be given to each relevant committee, including the Education Committee, to address issue-specific COVID-19 response efforts.
Interim Topics 2020
While the topic of coronavirus response was at the forefront of discussion, the Management Council also discussed interim topics for study. These are the following priorities addressed during the Management Council’s meeting:
Priority #1: 2020 Recalibration. The Committee members will attend the meetings and monitor the activities of the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration. Committee members not appointed to the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration request authorization to receive per diem and mileage to attend these meetings, as has been previous Management Council policy. The appropriation contained in 2020 House Bill 40 – School finance – model recalibration, contemplates the Committee’s attendance.
· This priority passed with the majority of votes. An amendment was also made to the Piccus and Odden contract, allowing for their work to continue remotely during the outbreak.
Priority #2 K-12 Education Program The Committee will study the K-12 education program, including the common core of knowledge and skills, student content and performance standards, graduation standards, district assessment systems, work-based learning programs, and reading assessment and intervention programs. The Committee anticipates this topic will be a two-year endeavor to fully grasp how each item is interwoven throughout the K-12 education program.
· This priority passed with the majority of votes.
Priority #3 Postsecondary Education Governance. The Committee will study postsecondary governance, both the University of Wyoming and Community Colleges. The Joint Education Interim Committee is to oversee the University of Wyoming’s governance study authorized by 2020 Senate File 1, Section 337 (Budget Bill). The Committee believes it is appropriate to include Community Colleges within this topic. The Committee anticipates this topic will be a two-year study, as is contemplated in the Budget Bill. Further, the Committee requests Management Council authorization to proceed in contracting with the appropriate expertise to assist the Committee in this work. Under this topic, the Committee will continue to monitor the implementation of the Wyoming Works and Community College Bachelor of Applied Science programs that were implemented during the 2019 General Session.
· This priority passed with the majority of votes. However, during the discussion of topics for the Appropriations Committee, Community College Funding and Governance was brought up. While this topic was eventually assigned to the Appropriations Committee, Representative Sommers proposed the formation of a Special Select Committee composed of 5 members of the Appropriations Committee and 5 members of the Education Committee. This proposal was voted on and accepted.
Priority #4 School Safety. The Committee will study K-12 and postsecondary school safety and security measures. This topic would continue to build upon the work of 2020 Senate File 79 – School safety and security, which related to K-12 school safety and security policies. The topic would also review ideas contained in 2020 House Bill 179 – Student hazing and try to identify uniform policies that can be put into place to address identification, prevention and reporting of hazing for K-20 education.
Priority #5 K-12 Absenteeism and Truancy. The Committee will study K-12 absenteeism and truancy. This topic would continue to build upon the work of 2020 Senate File 15 – Absenteeism and truancy to try to address responsibilities for enforcing attendance requirements among school districts, district attorneys, parents and others, including notification of the Wind River Tribal Court system when appropriate.
· This priority did not receive the number of votes necessary to pass.
The Wyoming Education Association is working closely with members of the Management Council and with other organizations to ensure that the response from the Governor’s office and the state legislature continues to take into account the best interests of education throughout the state. We will continue to keep our membership updated in regard to interim topics, COVID response topics, and information regarding the upcoming special session.