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Budget Cuts Threaten Summer School

Chair and umbrella from Pixabay. Design by Tennessee Watson

Summer school might sound like a punishment, but according to Karen Bierhaus from the Wyoming Department of Education, it often provides opportunities for students to learn in more creative and engaging ways.

However, due to changes in the school funding model during the 2017 Wyoming Legislative session, funding through the Wyoming Bridges Program for summer and extended day programs no longer exists.

By statute, money was set aside by the legislature to provide school districts with additional funds for enrichment programming for at-risk students outside of traditional school hours, said Bierhaus.

“But the funding formula for that statute — that money — was rolled into the formula model for the foundation money. So it wasn’t literally removed, but it got moved into the foundation,” said Bierhaus.

What Bierhaus refers to as “foundation money” is the block grant from the state to school districts, and Bierhaus said that “means all those dollars that used to have a statutory purpose assigned to them aren’t like that any longer.”

That’s unfortunate, said Bierhaus, since that means school districts no longer have to provide creative summer programming for kids who might need it. But she was sympathetic to the impact of state budget cuts, acknowledging that some districts might cancel summer programs and use that money to fund other areas.

“There may be choices that have to be made locally. Whether summer learning is at the top of the list or not really depends on the local culture around that and their perceived importance; perhaps their understanding of the benefits,” said Bierhaus.  

The WDE has yet to do an official survey but Bierhaus said she is aware of districts who plan to cut summer school programs.

Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-producing Wage/Working (a jukebox-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.
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