Wyoming Education Association

Spring 22

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Page 11 of 31

12 By the time you read this, the 2022 Budget Session will have concluded. As of this writing, just one week remains in this session. An influx of federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) into Wyoming school districts has brought with it a shield against the attacks on education funding we've seen in the statehouse in recent years. Maintenance of Effort and Maintenance of Equity clauses in ARP legislation dictate that, should the state fail to at least maintain its investment in public education prior to the influx of ARP dollars, it would be on the hook to pay back the difference to the federal government—in other words, these dollars are meant to be transformative for schools and students. They are meant to work to undo the damage done by COVID-19, not supplant the state's usual spending on public schools. But, make no mistake, even hidden behind the temporary financial shield of ARP stipulations, public education has still come under attack. The Joint Appropriations Committee will send the Governor a recommendation for $9.3 million for a single year's external cost adjustment (ECA) for utilities and materials. These dollars will be allocated across districts and as part of the block grant. Though $9.3 million is far better than the Senate's position to appropriate nothing, this appropriation is far short of the Joint Education Committee's recommendation of $70+ million. It also falls short of the recommendation from economist Dr. Christina Stoddard given to lawmakers over the interim. At that time, inflation was rising but had not yet approached—or even come near— the more than 7% inflationary pressure Wyoming now faces. This means that even Dr. Stoddard's recommended ECA amount would fail to keep pace with current inflation. Without an adjustment for inflation, the pay provided to classified and certified staff is stretched thin. Education employee shortages are a growing problem in Wyoming (see page 21), and though we didn't incur sweeping cuts in education funding, the system is already underfunded. It's cause for alarm for education employees, parents, students, and communities that lawmakers took no meaningful steps toward increasing salaries to recruit and retain Wyoming's quality education employees. The Wyoming Education Association has proposed an interim topic with legislative approval. That topic is certified and classified staff recruitment and retention. What does Wyoming need to do to attract and retain the quality staff that has made our education system successful? Ultimately, this topic aims to highlight the need for external cost adjustments, adequate pay and benefits, and an examination of the true weight of responsibilities on education employees. As the session comes to a close, the Joint Education Committee will meet to determine which topics they wish to move forward with, and then those topics will require Management Council approval. The Wyoming Education Association is hopeful that there is a significant appetite within the committee to examine this issue and better understand the plight of our educators in the state. This year, even as the fight for adequate funding took a relative backseat when compared to past sessions, we came against some uniquely problematic legislation for students and educators. Several bills catered to the national, ultra- conservative political rhetoric condemning Critical Race Theory, stepping over our state's well-developed, functional standards-setting process to do so. Senate File 62 Civics Transparency Act called for all teachers to catalog all learning materials used in their classrooms and provide these records to their district, with the intent that districts would publish these lists for parents' review. While transparency and parent engagement are welcome, integral pieces of students' overall education, the logistics of this legislation would have placed a burdensome and unrealistic expectation on Wyoming's teachers. Ultimately, after receiving more than 600 messages from WEA's cyber-lobbyists and hearing testimony from several of our members, the House Education Committee voted against Senate File 62. Senate File 51 Fairness in Women's Sports Act posed yet another threat to our public schools—violating WEA's legislative platform calling for safe and bias-free schools for all students. This bill would have prohibited transgender students from participating in girls' athletics in public Caption: From left: WEA Executive Director Ron Sniffin, Southeast Region President Mariah Learned, WEA Vice President Kim Amen, WEA Government Relations Director Tate Mullen, student Chaitan Murthy, Goshen County EA members Rachel Gibson and Heather Rutz (red jacket), and education policy researcher Carrie Murthy (in turquoise sweater). March 7, 2022. L e g i s l a t i v e

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