At a recent legislative forum in Powell, our local state senator remarked: “Teachers have a sweet deal.”

One might dismiss this as an off-handed comment, but this same legislator and others have made similar statements in recent months at other public meetings, suggesting their attitude toward educators.

One legislator stated that Wyoming might not be getting enough “bang for its buck” with its current education spending levels. Another cited “bloated teacher salaries” as a cause for Wyoming’s current education budget crisis.

But as Daniel Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.” Here are some facts:

Wyoming is ranked seventh in the nation for overall school quality in the 2017 Quality Counts Report published by Education Week. Additionally, Wyoming students were highly ranked in many categories on the 2015 National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP) test. While between 2013 and 2015, national NAEP results either sank or remained flat, Wyoming met or exceeded national NAEP results in all areas.

According to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute, it is also a fact that “those states which have made the greatest investment in building the capacity of their public school systems … have experienced stronger economic growth than those that did not.” Education is not a cost to the state, but an investment.

Regarding teacher salaries: Nationally, in 2016, teachers earned 17 percent less than similarly educated workers (Economic Policy Institute). According to the Wyoming Department of Education, the average Wyoming teacher salary in 2016 was $50,932.75. Many workers in our state with less education make much more than our teachers do. A gas field worker in Evanston with no post-high-school education can make over $100,000 a year, not including benefits, while a teacher in Wheatland with a bachelor’s degree plus 30 credits and 12 years experience makes less than half that. Often the claim is made that teachers “only work half a year.” So do many in the gas and oil fields. In the extraction industry, shifts can run seven days on and seven off, plus vacation. The gas field worker cited above works less than half a year.

It is important to remember that while both workers are valuable, only the teacher is responsible for educating Wyoming’s future generations.

Schools in the United States are often compared to those in other countries, where the students score higher on international assessments. An April EdWeek blog post examined a recent study of common themes in high-performing schools around the world. One important factor is a high social regard for the teaching profession — in short, teachers are respected and appreciated. In higher-performing countries, teacher training programs are very selective and rigorous, but the people who are admitted to them receive strong financial support for teacher preparation and professional learning. Ongoing professional development is an essential part of continuous teacher improvement.

In other words, those school systems that are the most successful in the world don’t blame teachers for their financial woes. They praise them for the essential, critical work they are doing. They rigorously vet the people who will become teachers, but then they adequately compensate those who do and financially support their ongoing professional development.

Certain members of the Wyoming Legislature should stop viewing teachers as a problem in the state’s budget and realize that hiring, training, developing and retaining highly qualified teachers is absolutely vital to making sure Wyoming’s children receive the best possible education.

Educating the children of our state is not merely a priority in our state — it is the priority. So says commonsense and our state Constitution. If Wyoming’s legislators want to secure the future not just of our young people, but of the state itself, they need to raise and allocate the necessary funds.

Kimberly Condie of Powell has served on the Park County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees for a year. The opinions expressed are hers alone.

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