The House Education Committee discussed their proposed omnibus education bill to a packed auditorium at Cheyenne East High School Monday evening.
A steady line of school administrators, teachers, school board members and parents made comments on the proposed budget cuts.
Many people raised concerns about the bill’s overreach. Rather than having the legislature determine how cuts should be made, multiple superintendents said they would prefer a percent cut across the board, giving control to districts and local school boards to decide how to tighten budgets.
When Representative David Northrup, Chair of the House Education Committee, asked Kelly McGovern, the Superintendent of Sweetwater District #1, if she’d prefer across the board cuts to what was proposed in the omnibus bill, she said she preferred neither. She encouraged the committee to go slowly and take more time to consider the numbers.
Many in the crowd also voiced worry over the special education spending freeze and how limiting funds would harm Wyoming’s ability to offer adequate services, especially in more remote schools where hiring specialists can be costly.
The committee invited feedback on revenue enhancements to benefit education funding. Justin Sitzman, a teacher from Cheyenne, was one of the few to take on this topic.
“We are one of the few states in the nation that doesn’t have an income tax.” Sitzman joked that, “Nobody jumps up and says, yes! Tax day!” Sitzman then asked the committee to stop pretending that taxes aren’t an option.
“We can’t pretend that oil will be here forever. We can’t pretend that coal will magically make a rebound. We have other options.”
His cautious attitude about Wyoming’s over reliance on mineral and energy production was echoed by several other speakers.
At the end of the three hour meeting, a weary Terra Hernandez was headed out the door. The Instructional Facilitator program she works for -- coaching Wyoming teachers – has been eyed for cuts. She said, “You can’t cut your way out of things. It’s time to pull up our boots straps.” For Hernandez, that means paying taxes. “We need to stop living on the high hog and figure it out for kids.”
The committee heard over two hours of public comments, and ultimately decided more time was needed to re-examine the numbers before taking it to the floor of the House of Representatives.