Back to School

Students line up for their bus ride home Tuesday afternoon at the Natrona County School District bus hub in central Casper. The 2017-18 school year began Tuesday for Casper-area students.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

Wyoming schools are facing a massive shortfall in funding, but lawmakers have been hesitant to raise revenue, saying their constituents won’t support creating or raising taxes to close the gap.

That’s especially puzzling given that legislators also acknowledge that cuts alone simply can’t solve the problem. The $530 million funding shortfall is too immense to address in that manner.

But for those who truly believe they were honoring their constituents’ wishes by failing to tackle the financial crunch, there is good news. A recent poll commissioned by the Wyoming Education Association indicates that taxpayers aren’t as against supporting state services as their legislators might believe.

The survey suggested that more than 75 percent of Wyoming voters would be willing to pay more in taxes to fund education, while almost 60 percent would be OK with raising the sales tax.

The details and methodology here are important: The survey was performed by a top Republican polling firm, one that boasts 12 senators and 62 congressmen as clients. It spoke with 500 registered voters – two-thirds of whom were Republicans.

This indicates that raising taxes to support public education – Wyoming’s kindergartners through 12th-graders, plus all the faculty, staff and infrastructure needed to support their learning – might not actually be a hard sell to a majority of residents.

But it could be a critical one. The state is in deep trouble financially, and not just in the case of public education. Departments and agencies across the board are feeling the sting of budget cuts. This is a time that demands solutions, new ideas and an exploration of what it takes to be a leader of our state.

True leaders don’t throw up their hands and insist there’s no way to solve a problem that must be solved. True leaders take careful stock of the situation – how we reached this point, how bad it is now and how much it could worsen over the coming years and generations if it’s not addressed – and explain that to their constituents. The members of the state House and Senate must stop looking around to see how this will be addressed and take the reins themselves. They love and represent this state, and they are obligated to solve its most pressing problems.

That means piling the table high with options for how to fill the funding gap, even if some of those avenues might take research and persuasion. It means exploring all those choices and what they would mean for future generations of Wyomingites. It means looking at the big picture, not just what it will take to get re-elected. The point of being an elected official is having the opportunity to solve really big problems – and they don’t need to be re-elected to start doing that right now.

To be clear, we’re not advocating taxing our way out of the problem. The best solution will come from a combination of spending cuts, revenue increases and restructuring. Lawmakers owe it to their state and to their constituents to explore all options for addressing Wyoming’s education funding crisis and other financial problems. If this poll is any indication – and we believe it is – the solution may be an easier sell than they thought.


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