Wyoming Liberty Group
Stand and Deliver Transparency
Honesty, integrity, and clarity. These are some of the values we hope our public schools will instill in our children. So why is it so hard to get the school system to follow the same principles by telling us how our tax dollars are spent?
Teacher lobbies and other school employees tell us they need more money to maintain quality education. Parents and taxpayers may be forgiven for asking: what quality? And how will throwing more money at the problem help?
The sad truth is Wyoming consistently scores near the bottom of the country in most measures of basic educational achievement, including science, math and reading: according to the National Assessment for Educational Progress, or NAEP, in 2015 65% of Wyoming’s eighth graders weren’t proficient in math, while 64% weren’t proficient in reading.
This despite the fact that in recent years the state spent well above the national average per enrolled K-12 student ($16,318, 39% higher than the national average of $11,709 in 2015, putting us ninth in the U.S.). Moreover, in 2015 Wyoming ranked sixth in the country in terms of the number of teachers per head, while from 2005-2015 the average salary of teachers in Wyoming soared 41.8% in current dollars and 15.5% on a constant basis – a bigger percentage increase than any other state. And we already pay plenty in taxes, with per capita local tax revenue of $2,048, putting us in the top 15 U.S. states.
In other words, money is not the problem. Why, then, are our educational achievement levels so low? The answer is right before our eyes – we just can’t see it, because so many spending decisions are obscured by layers of bureaucracy and administration. While Wyoming’s spending on the public education system ballooned during the coal boom, most of this spending simply helped feed a bloated, inefficient administrative state. How else can you explain the fact that many of our school superintendents are paid higher salaries than the governor, regardless of educational outcomes? It’s a bureaucratic bonanza with no strings attached.
When our children come home from school each day, it’s our responsibility as parents to put a roof over their heads. If that roof starts leaking, and we hire someone to fix it, and the roof starts leaking again…and the same repairman continues to fix the roof over and over again with the same result, eventually we’re going to want to get up on a ladder and have a look for ourselves to figure out if the repairman is fixing the right hole – or even doing anything at all.
Our approach to school – where our kids spend most of their waking hours – should be no different. With test scores and student proficiency falling below expectations year after year, we can no longer afford to blindly trust school administrators and elected officials to get it right on their own. We need more transparency to understand why we’re near the top of state education spending but near the bottom of education outcomes. By illuminating these problems, we can encourage public debate about how best to provide our children with a quality education they deserve, and how to ensure accountability for results.