SHERIDAN — Gov. Matt Mead told The Sheridan Press Wednesday that there are two areas in which he did not accomplish as much as he had hoped to in his first term as governor: health care and education.
Mead and First Lady Carol Mead visited Sheridan Wednesday to connect with local community leaders, attend a fundraiser at The Brinton Museum and tour the Sheridan College campus, focusing particularly on the new Edward A. Whitney Academic Center and the Thorne-Rider Campus Center, which is currently under construction.
“In all areas, there’s room for progress, but there’s two areas where I feel like we’ve not accomplished the satisfactory answer. One is education, in terms of providing the support necessary to our teachers, school districts, parents and kids,” Mead said. The topic of education was fitting as Mead had just toured the Edward A. Whitney Academic Center and was able to see firsthand the result of state support for school infrastructure, which provides valuable space for education far into the future, he said.
However, Mead said, the state needs to do more.
“Wyoming pays year in and year out the one or two most per pupil, and that, to me, is not a problem. I think it’s right to put that emphasis on education,” Mead said. “As I have my own kids in school now, and I see the work that they’re doing, it’s way beyond where I was when I was in school. So there seems to me to be a bit of a disconnect between what we see in test scores and what I, at least anecdotally, see and hear around the state when I meet teachers.”
Mead said he knows the state has great teachers and administrators and several success stories in education. He noted Sheridan County’s proficiency rates on standardized tests that range in the upper 80th and 90th percentiles.
At the same time, he said, there are counties with proficiency scores in the 50-60 percent range.
Overall, Wyoming ranks toward the middle of the pack in terms of achievement scores when compared to other states, even though it is typically in the top five states for spending per pupil.
“I don’t think it’s at the local level as much as it is that the state has not provided what it needs to in terms of support,” Mead said. “I think we have too many tests, and that’s not just lobbying for my own kids, who are in support of no tests, by the way. I hear that from teachers, and so we’ve got work to do, and it’s going to be difficult.”
Mead said there were bumps in the state’s education road in the last couple years with the passage of Senate File 104, which stripped State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill of most of her powers, and then the ruling earlier this year by the Wyoming Supreme Court that SF104 was unconstitutional and Hill should resume her full position of governing the Department of Education.
In early May, the Wyoming Republican Party attempted to censure, or severely reprimand, Mead for his 2013 vote in favor of SF104. The measure failed by a vote of 132-145 at the state convention. Mead said he was surprised there was a censure measure for that, but not for his stance on term limits for all five state elected officials, which was also ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
“If you look historically in Wyoming, the Legislature does pass, and governors do sign, laws that later turned out to be unconstitutional. We have to respect that, and we have to move on. But that is the system of our government. It’s a checks and balance. That’s the system actually working,” Mead said.
“(Senate File 104) was a well-intentioned effort by the Legislature, and by me. LSO attorneys looked at it, two attorney generals looked at it, five Supreme Court justices looked at it, three of which thought it was unconstitutional.”
At this point, Mead said he wants to move on and work on improving education in the state as a collective whole.
During his address to community leaders at a luncheon in the Whitney Academic Center, Mead said he was most impressed with the community support and support from organizations like the Whitney foundation that made such a center possible.
“Thank you for what you are doing here. It’s meaningful to the entire state,” Mead said.
While in Sheridan, Mead also did an interview with Mayor Dave Kinskey and city councilors that will air on Channel 12, handed out student reading awards at Holy Name Catholic School and attended a fundraiser at The Brinton Museum.