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Amid teacher exodus, Wyoming eyes $68M to cover rising K-12 costs

Districts would see increased funding for the 2024-25 school year if approved by the Legislature during the upcoming budget session.

A kindergarten classroom at Spring Creek Elementary School in Laramie, October 2023. (Tennessee Watson/Wyofile)

by Tennessee Watson, WyoFile

Teacher pay in Wyoming has seen little growth over the last decade, leaving educators struggling to keep pace with inflation, which spiked in 2021 and has remained high since. 

The number of teachers leaving the field has also spiked. At 12% this year, the teacher exit rate is at the highest level recorded since 2010, Wyoming Department of Education data shows. 

Teachers leave for many reasons, but money is a major factor. Teachers ranked higher salaries as their top priority relative to retention in a survey administered by the Wyoming Teacher Retention and Recruitment Task Force. 

A graph shows a connection between teacher retention and higher salary in a report detailing the results of the Education Professionals Climate Survey administered by the Wyoming Teacher Retention and Recruitment Task Force. (Screenshot)

The Joint Appropriations Committee Wednesday threw its support behind a Joint Education Committee proposal to increase K-12 education funding by $68 million, enabling that measure to continue moving through the budget approval process.

Responding to concerns that school districts are struggling to hire qualified teachers, as well as cover other rising costs, the education committee last month proposed spending 3.8% more for professional staff, 14.7% for energy, 21.8% for educational materials and 4.2% for non-professional staff. 

The budget increase, known as an external cost adjustment, is a decision the education committee is statutorily required to make on an annual basis in response to variables like inflation. The panel can recommend a funding increase good for one year, or a funding increase that would remain in place until lawmakers adjust the overall school funding model through a process called “recalibration.”

But before an external cost adjustment can be considered by the Legislature, it must get approval from the appropriations committee. 

On Wednesday, the committee voted in favor of forwarding the $68-million recommendation to Gov. Mark Gordon for consideration in the draft budget he’ll present to the Legislature during the upcoming budget session.

A graph from Dr. Christina Stoddard’s presentation “Labor Market Analysis of Teaching Staff in Wyoming” to the Joint Education Committee on Sept. 27, 2023. (Screenshot)

Sen. Tim Salazar (R-Riverton) was the lone dissenting vote. 

Speaking in support of the external cost adjustment, Laramie County School District No. 1 Business Manager Jed Cicarelli told the appropriations committee that “school districts certainly have not been immune from a lot of the same things that we see in our personal lives as consumers.” 

He’s seen significant increases in the cost of essential items like a 20% price hike for paper towels and a 60% jump in the cost of standard paper. The cost to replace a student desk is up 27%, he said. Rising energy costs are yet another concern for Cicarelli, who said gas jumped 56% in his district.  

Sheridan County School District No. 1 Business Manager Jeremy Smith told the education committee in September that increased housing costs make attracting and retaining quality teachers challenging in his region. “Even if we could hire them, then they can’t afford housing,” Smith said. The hope is that higher salaries will help teachers be able to afford to stick around.

There was no public testimony against the proposed external cost adjustment at the Joint Education Committee’s September meeting or Wednesday’s Joint Appropriations Committee meeting. 

The Legislature’s 2024 budget session is slated to start Feb. 12.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.


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