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Lawmakers advance $25M cost of living increase for teachers

Casper's Southridge Elementary Principal Sonya Tuttle speaks with teachers during a teacher development day in August 2021. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Dustin BleizefferWyoFile

Wyoming teachers and staff may see an annual cost-of-living adjustment as lawmakers advanced a $25 million hike that would start in 2022. But it’s unclear how far that might go toward bringing salaries in line with a national average that has outpaced the state in recent years.

Wyoming’s average teacher salary is about 93% of the national average, according to the Legislative Service Office.

The Joint Education Interim Committee on Monday supported the “external cost adjustment” with nine yes votes, four no votes and one excused. Now it’s up to the Joint Appropriations Committee to decide whether to include the ECA as proposed by the Education Committee in a budget bill.

The average salary for Wyoming teachers today remains strong compared to neighboring states, according to a Legislative Service Office report. However, it has declined when compared to the national average and is now at the lowest comparative point in 10 years. 

“The actual salaries have shown little growth since 2012,” LSO consultant Christina Stoddard told lawmakers. “As a result, those teaching wages have fallen behind salaries in comparable occupations in Wyoming … from 96% to 85%.”

Although average teacher salaries in the state are competitive with neighboring states, advocates say Wyoming needs a better edge in the national market. That’s because the allure of teaching, in general, has eroded throughout the nation in recent years and especially since the pandemic, they say.

“On the national front, teachers have felt underappreciated, overworked and underpaid,” Wyoming Education Association Government Relations Director Tate Mullen told lawmakers. “These sentiments are shared by many educators in the state of Wyoming. The flat salaries, consistent threats to education funding, coupled with the high stress of teaching in our current atmosphere, they’ve had measurable impacts on our education system.”

To attract and maintain high-quality teachers in rural Wyoming requires paying a higher wage than surrounding states, Mullen said.

“If we maintain our current trajectory, it won’t be long before we have lost what little competitive edge that we still have,” Mullen said.

Joint Education Committee Co-Chairman Charles Scott (R-Casper) shares a concern with several other committee members that school districts already have enough funding and spending discretion to raise salaries for certain positions, he said.

The notion of a growing salary disadvantage, “maybe the evidence doesn’t support that,” said Scott, who voted against the ECA measure.   

The LSO report to the committee also showed that women still make up about 70% of the teaching workforce in Wyoming. It also suggests that stimulus dollars provided to school districts through the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act have not resulted in a significant number of new teaching positions in Wyoming.

“There’s not a lot of pressure coming from rising student enrollment,” Stoddard told lawmakers. “So I don’t anticipate you having to hire a big new crop of teachers due to increased student enrollment.”

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.