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SHERIDAN — Rep. John Patton, R-Sheridan, has served several spans over the last five decades in Wyoming’s Legislature and is as passionate as ever about seeing state lawmakers operate efficiently and education systems operate in ways that will best serve the needs of the state’s youth.
Over the years, he has sat on a variety of committees focused on education, investment and procedural issues.
This past year Patton served on the House Education Committee and the House Rules and Procedures Committee, as well as several select committees including one on capital financing and investments. He also served on the Select Investigative Committee, which was formed to look into issues with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill and allegations of mismanagement of the Wyoming Department of Education.
The Joint Interim Committee on Education and the Select Committee on Education Accountability have proposed more than 10 bills for consideration in the 2014 session. Topics range from funding for alternative schools, to school accountability assessments, to increasing the award amount for Hathaway scholarships. Patton also discussed a few bills and issues that arose from his work in the committee on financing and investments. One that may come before the Legislature will change the length of time investment advisers are hired to work with the State Loans and Investments Board from three to four years. This will allow each of the five elected officials on the SLIB to have at least two years to become familiar with the treasury system and one particular adviser’s style, providing stability on the board.
In the education realm, Patton is particularly concerned about the processes used for educational accountability.
These include annual progress reports that broadly test student success without taking into account individual strengths or goals and then use that measure to determine a school’s overall performance, often pinning a school’s success or failure to meet Annual Yearly Progress standards solely on the school’s principal.
“I have watched the Legislature go from making evaluations on such tests, and then finding fault when annual progress is not satisfactory by mathematic standards,” Patton said. “I do not believe in test, test and punish.”
Patton said he thinks requiring annual yearly progress reports at the state level omits the role of individual district boards, superintendents, principals and school leadership and that recognition needs to be given to the knowledge held by separate educational units about their progress and success.
“We can do more good for more kids by being supportive of our schools rather than testing and punishing,” Patton said.
Patton said as the law stands now, school principals are held responsible for their school’s progress and that he won’t support a bill modifying educational accountability until it focuses on more than one person and encourages schools, families and communities to work together to promote accountability within their own walls.
Patton also said a couple bills regarding financing for education will be brought to the House and Senate floor.
One will eliminate the moratorium imposed on alternative schools so they can receive funding from block grants, providing more financial stability.
Another one proposed by Wyoming’s community colleges will make statutory changes to the funding mechanisms and allocations to improve funding for the state’s schools. Patton said he would like any changes to funding mechanisms to “keep up with the times and look at the actual cost of education and make funding reliable for the future.”
As part of the Select Investigative Committee, Patton is part of a subcommittee tasked with performing an audit on Hills’ handling of funds in Fremont County, which has been under scrutiny as some legislators believe she reallocated funds without following proper procedure. The audit results should be available soon, Patton said, although any further action on the Hill case will be postponed until after the session.
“It wasn’t our usual enjoyable kind of task,” Patton said of the hearing held for Hill. “It’s more fun to think about the future than make judgements on the past.”