Whether or not one subscribes to the view that education is vital to our state’s future, there is something concerning about current efforts at the Legislature to tackle the impending budget shortfall. Since the Legislative Session began, our collective lawmakers have been throwing bill after bill at the problem, some of them wackier than others.
We’ve seen suggestions for new taxes on alcohol, changes in class sizes and borrowing from other accounts – robbing Peter to pay Paul, essentially. We’ve seen the House and Senate swap omnibus bills that highlight fundamental disagreements in how to approach this mess.
At this stage, we still cannot be completely certain how large the shortfall will be – it’s a moving target. The $400 million yearly cut to education funding that was originally suggested is nothing to be sniffed at. At a certain point, a shortfall that sizeable is bound to affect aspects of our schooling that we all hold dear.
An issue this enormous requires thought. It requires cool heads to prevail.
As the session began, Governor Matt Mead cautioned us all that education funding is too big a problem to tackle in one hit – and it’s too important to address without the input of people who are going to be directly affected. Teachers, parents, stakeholders and the students themselves – these are the folks who have a clear idea of how cuts and changes will impact our schools.
He asked us to begin a conversation that would ripple across the whole state. He suggested that we should take the time over the next year to hold that conversation and come back with our solutions when the Legislature reconvenes.
So far, that’s not what’s happening. Instead, someone in Cheyenne appears to have slammed down on the panic button and the response has been a flurry of bills that have, in some cases, to say the least, been questionable.
Meanwhile, our own school district is doing its utmost to prepare for the shortfall – but it’s doing so without the benefit of clear information. It’s also doing so without the benefit of sharing its boots-on-the-ground knowledge with the people who are pressing ahead with their bills.
You would have thought that, in Wyoming, we would know better than to believe that a one-size-fits-all solution will work. Sweeping changes that would have entirely different effects depending on a district’s location, size and make-up could easily do more harm than good.
If we do ultimately decide to reduce our educational offerings, then so be it. If we, as citizens, decide we would rather take on new taxes, then so be it. These are questions that can only be answered via thoughtful debate.
We urge our lawmakers to take a measured response, consider the Governor’s words and take a step back before the damage is done. The conversation he asked for needs to happen – and it needs to include all of us.