The state senate initially approved a bill to appoint a director over the Wyoming Department of Education after two hours of debate on Monday evening.
The bill, Senate File 104, was approved 19-10. It still must pass two other readings in the Senate before it moves on for consideration in the state house.
Essentially, the measure sponsored by 17 legislators, including Campbell County Republicans Sen. Michael Von Flatern and Rep. Tom Lubnau, would make the state superintendent of public education a ceremonial position with few duties.
"This process, whether you vote for this bill or against this bill, is going to be a painful process," said state Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Natrona, who was among the last speakers before the vote.
"This is a bill that has a chance to be transformational," to affect education in Wyoming for the next two decades, he added.
State Sen. Charles Scott, R-Natrona, was among the legislators who spoke in favor of the measure that likely will include several amendments during the second and third readings. "What this bill does is say, to us, enough is enough. We're essentially wasting the lives of a bunch of children who are not getting the education they should be and it's time to make a change."
Others spoke against the proposal, saying the creation of a director robs the people of Wyoming of their voice through an elected official. They questioned the constitutionality of the move too.
"This is an elected position. The people that really need to decide out there are the people who vote," said state Sen. Cale Case, R-Fremont.
Another legislator noted he had received 200 emails on the issue ranging from congratulations to threats if the action is taken.
"We have not yet heard from the people," pointed out Jim D. Anderson, R-Converse/Platte. "The people out there are beginning to wonder in regard to what's going on.
"The issues seem to revolve around the constitutional question and what's good for Wyoming," the retired teacher said. "We have to address what I think is the public perception.
"The perception is that we're taking something away from them that they voted for. It's a constitutional issue in their minds, which is more important, if anything, than educational issues."