The Wyoming Supreme Court released an opinion today that could put Superintendent Cindy Hill back in charge of the Wyoming Department of Education. Three of the five justices on the court found in favor of overturning Senate Enrolled Act 1 from the 2013 session, commonly known as Senate File 104.
Barring a successful appeal of the ruling, the decision could begin a process to restore powers that Senate File 104 transferred from the Superintendent of Public Instruction to an appointed director in the Wyoming Department of Education. Justice James Burke wrote the majority opinion, and justices Michael Davis and Barton Voight (retired) concurred. Justice Michael Golden (retired) and Chief Justice Marilyn Kite dissented.
The central question of the court’s decision turned on the meaning of Article 7, Section 14 of the Wyoming Constitution, which states:
“The general supervision of the public schools shall be entrusted to the state superintendent of public instruction, whose powers and duties shall be prescribed by law.”
The majority argued that Senate File 104 violated the state constitution by removing the general supervision of schools from the Superintendent. The dissenting justices held that the law followed the constitutional charge for the legislature, “which expressly includes prescribing the superintendent’s powers and duties to generally supervise the public schools.”
Wyoming Department of Education spokesman Tom Lacock told WyoFile that the agency is still sorting out the ramifications of the decision by consulting with Gov. Matt Mead’s office. Among those questions is what will become of appointed director Richard Crandall, who joined the department last year.
“As of right now we still have a lot of work to do until we have a better understanding of the process and what happens next,” Lacock said. “Until we know what happens next we are going to go about our work much as possible. It’s a weird time here.”
Update: On January 30th the Office of the Wyoming Attorney General announced it will request a rehearing of the Senate File 104 suit before the Supreme Court. If the request is granted it could delay Hill’s return to the Wyoming Department of Education. Read this press release for more.
To learn about current debates in Wyoming education policy, read Wyoming lawmakers want better schools, teacher raises, by Gregory Nickerson, January 14, 2014.