Tough Times in Wyoming – What HB 233 Means to Me

What HB233 Means to Me
For those of you living outside of the state, Wyoming is in the midst of a major shortage in funding for education.  We are in the hole to the tune of $650 million dollars because of the declining revenues from coal and oil.  Recently a number of legislators proposed a cut to teacher salaries as an answer to this shortfall. The initial number thrown around was 20% based on the cut to block grant funding.  Omnibus HB 236 is being debated at I type this and we will soon know our fate as far as the cuts are concerned. Odds are, this number will change during the legislative session but I wanted these legislators to know exactly what cuts would mean to my family and me and the lasting impact cutting teacher salaries will have on Wyoming – both in our communities and in our schools.

Dear Representatives Miller, Larsen, Clem, Allen and Salazar and Senator Driskill,

Four years ago I moved to Wyoming from Colorado. In Colorado I had survived cut after cut, furlough’s, buying my own copy paper, books, paper and pencils for students on my meager salary. I witnessed a revolving door of teachers year after year because the pay was ridiculously low and schools were so hard to work in. Year after year I watched my colleagues struggle with few resources in their classrooms. I saw many excellent teachers leave the profession because they could no longer afford to feed their families and keep a roof over their head.

When I arrived at Anderson Elementary in Cheyenne, I was awestruck at the technology, resources and highly trained teachers. I had paper, I had books and I didn’t have to teach in a closet! My job was clearly valued by the community and state and the amazing facilities and resources spoke volumes about how much education mattered in Wyoming.

Wyoming is now in an incredibly difficult place. The budget shortfalls in education are bleak. As the daughter of a legislator, I understand the challenges you face as you try and do what is best for Wyoming. I do not envy your position for a moment.

But I need you to hear my voice as a constituent, a teacher and a transplant Wyomingite. I wanted you to know what HB233 would mean to me. It may seem like an acceptable answer to cut from a teacher’s salary, because after all, all teachers do is teach kids.

Huge cuts will mean an end to the after school clubs and activities I ran on my free time.
Huge cuts will make it hard for me to pay for the master’s degree I needed to get to become a highly qualified teacher.
Huge cuts will mean I have to find another job after school just to help me pay for my mortgage.
Huge cuts will mean that I no longer can afford all those extra STEM items I buy for my classroom.
Huge cuts will leave me wondering if I can continue to afford to stay in education.

As I contemplate what this legislation will cost me and the students I teach, I wonder if you have considered the costs to Wyoming? Have you considered the impact on businesses when teachers move out of their communities and possibly the state to find better jobs? What happens to those teachers who can afford to stay? What impact will cutting their salary have when they can’t afford to spend any of that remaining salary in their community? What happens when those teachers can no longer afford the extra things that supported their communities? What high quality educators are going to want to move to Wyoming?

I know that your bill stipulates that this will not impact contracts entered into before July 1st, 2017. Are you aware that teacher contracts are renewed annually? Therefore, as written, it impacts every single teacher in the state of Wyoming.

Recently Wyoming was rated in the top ten for education funding. Teachers move to this state to teach because of how well they are treated here – not just financially but by their communities. This bill might help our current shortfall but it will have future ramifications that I am not sure you have fully considered. Teachers are a valuable part of the community and the economy. Please don’t discredit our contributions.

The bottom line: huge cuts are a ridiculous burden to ask teachers to shoulder by themselves.. I realize that we are in the of an insane budget shortfall and we have to find an answer to this problem. One thing we teachers can tell you is that there has to be a better, more creative solution than slashing the salaries of the people who make Wyoming education so great.

Regardless of whether or not 20% is the number that ends up in your bill, I strongly urge you to reconsider this legislation and think about the irreparable harm it will do to our communities, our schools and our children. Education is too important, teachers are too important to take this uncalculated risk.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter,
Rachel Crawford
Granite Canyon, Wyoming

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