March 7 – CHEYENNE – A bill calling for transparency in educational materials died Monday before the House Education Committee after educators testified it would be a burden.
Senate Brief 62 was brought by Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, because he said he was continually approached by constituents concerned about their school districts. Some of those parents said at committee meetings ahead of the vote that they had no access to their students’ learning materials and were being ignored by their local school boards.
“Teachers educate our children, but they do it in collaboration with parents,” Driskill said. “And the way you become an engaged parent is to understand what your kids are being taught, how they are being taught, and that brings you in.”
While the representatives said they saw the need for the Civic Transparency Act based on statewide complaints, it led to a division among them when it came time to vote. Four voted to move SF 62 to the bedroom floor for consideration, but five voted against.
Representatives Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, opposed the bill; Steve Harshman, R-Casper; Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie; Jerry Obermueller, R-Casper and Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale. Supporters were Committee Chairman Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment, and Sens. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie; Chip Neiman, R-Hulett and Sandy Newsome, R-Cody.
Although they did not give their reasons for killing the bill, the committee’s opponents were supported by more than 15 educators and advocates who spoke Monday afternoon. Opponents were even joined in the testimony of a 10-year-old student who said the bill would harm his educational experience.
“It’s really cool that my teacher can search for answers to things that interest us. It means we learn even more,” he said. “If this bill were passed, I think teachers wouldn’t be doing the same because there would be more things they have to track and put on their list. I don’t think that’s a good idea. .”
SF 62 would have required teachers to post a list of all teaching materials used by public K-12 schools, from worksheets to guest lectures they were planning. But before the legislation was received by the House Education Committee, its scope changed significantly.
Senators amended the bill to remove civic education requirements and exams to earn a high school diploma. The deadline for them to publish their documents was also extended by a year, in order to prepare for the process and the workload they had to take on. Driskill said he supported the changes in the chamber because they focused only on the aspect of transparency, which many other lawmakers endorsed.
The teachers said it would be too overwhelming, given the schedules they have due to the pandemic. At a minimum, they should schedule lessons for virtual and in-person classes without overtime, grade assignments, source new materials, and always cultivate a healthy learning environment. This ignores the fact that some said they taught six different classes in rural districts, with nearly 2,000 different learning materials per year.
“Transparency is important, no doubt, because I need parents to trust me as a teacher or my kids won’t learn,” said social studies teacher Dane Waver. “But I think posting all this material on a list that we would all have to put together is a tedious task; it doesn’t get us anywhere. It doesn’t get us anywhere near where we want, because the vast majority of parents don’t aren’t going to watch all of this, especially when it’s just a class.”
But representatives and stakeholders argued that there are parents who will want to sift through information and know every aspect of what their child is learning. Neiman insisted that this opportunity must be guaranteed because teachers work for parents and he wants them to be involved.
Mariah Learned, a reading and maths facilitator at the University of Wyoming, said she didn’t think it would be enough for worried parents anyway.
“What I think you will find is that parents will not be happy with this list,” she said. “It doesn’t really get to the root of the problem, which is wanting to know what’s going on in this classroom. A list of materials won’t tell you what I’m doing during a 45-minute intervention period with a student, but a conversation with me would. Walk into my class absolutely would.
Lawmakers listened to testimony from like-minded educators for nearly two hours and made their final decision within the final five minutes of the committee meeting.
Jasmine Hall is the educational reporter for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. She can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter @jasminerhphotos and on Instagram @jhrose25.