A kindergarten classroom at Spring Creek Elementary School in Laramie, October 2023. (Tennessee Watson/Wyofile)

Teacher pay in Wyoming has seen little growth over the last decade, leaving educators struggling to keep pace with inflation, which spiked in 2021 and has remained high since. 

The number of teachers leaving the field has also spiked. At 12% this year, the teacher exit rate is at the highest level recorded since 2010, Wyoming Department of Education data shows. 

Teachers leave for many reasons, but money is a major factor. Teachers ranked higher salaries as their top priority relative to retention in a survey administered by the Wyoming Teacher Retention and Recruitment Task Force. 

A graph shows a connection between teacher retention and higher salary in a report detailing the results of the Education Professionals Climate Survey administered by the Wyoming Teacher Retention and Recruitment Task Force. (Screenshot)

The Joint Appropriations Committee Wednesday threw its support behind a Joint Education Committee proposal to increase K-12 education funding by $68 million, enabling that measure to continue moving through the budget approval process.

Responding to concerns that school districts are struggling to hire qualified teachers, as well as cover other rising costs, the education committee last month proposed spending 3.8% more for professional staff, 14.7% for energy, 21.8% for educational materials and 4.2% for non-professional staff. 

The budget increase, known as an external cost adjustment, is a decision the education committee is statutorily required to make on an annual basis in response to variables like inflation. The panel can recommend a funding increase good for one year, or a funding increase that would remain in place until lawmakers adjust the overall school funding model through a process called “recalibration.” 

But before an external cost adjustment can be considered by the Legislature, it must get approval from the appropriations committee. 

On Wednesday, the committee voted in favor of forwarding the $68-million recommendation to Gov. Mark Gordon for consideration in the draft budget he’ll present to the Legislature during the upcoming budget session. 

A graph from Dr. Christina Stoddard’s presentation “Labor Market Analysis of Teaching Staff in Wyoming” to the Joint Education Committee on Sept. 27, 2023. (Screenshot)

Sen. Tim Salazar (R-Riverton) was the lone dissenting vote. 

Speaking in support of the external cost adjustment, Laramie County School District No. 1 Business Manager Jed Cicarelli told the appropriations committee that “school districts certainly have not been immune from a lot of the same things that we see in our personal lives as consumers.” 

He’s seen significant increases in the cost of essential items like a 20% price hike for paper towels and a 60% jump in the cost of standard paper. The cost to replace a student desk is up 27%, he said. Rising energy costs are yet another concern for Cicarelli, who said gas jumped 56% in his district.  

Sheridan County School District No. 1 Business Manager Jeremy Smith told the education committee in September that increased housing costs make attracting and retaining quality teachers challenging in his region. “Even if we could hire them, then they can’t afford housing,” Smith said. The hope is that higher salaries will help teachers be able to afford to stick around.

There was no public testimony against the proposed external cost adjustment at the Joint Education Committee’s September meeting or Wednesday’s Joint Appropriations Committee meeting. 

The Legislature’s 2024 budget session is slated to start Feb. 12.

Tennessee Jane Watson is WyoFile's deputy managing editor. She was a 2020 Nieman Abrams Fellow for Local Investigative Journalism and Wyoming Public Radio's education reporter. She lives in Laramie. Contact...

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  1. Whadda laugh; a state that throws away $10 million for a shooting gallery for insecure popgunners cannot even fund its schools.

  2. If you want teachers to feel safe and join Wyoming Public Schools start first by caring for them, second stop trying to legislate how they teach as they know way more than the derelicts that think they do and lasting get a superintendent that isn’t trying to make educators into Sunday school teachers.

    1. unfortunately, the party in power would love to decrease the critical thinking and education in their voting populace.

  3. If you WANT kids(?)/Right to Life(?). Pay for and educate the little “F’ers” yourselves! “Education” is one of the best examples of the FACT the US is a Socialist Country quickly followed by a Standing Army. Do you need/want another?

  4. Lack of affordable housing for teachers is a big problem right now. New teachers in Hot Springs county are having a serious problem finding housing – rental housing that is. My neighbor has 2 rental houses in town and a teacher almost begged her to rent one of the units to the teacher – she declined – why? The units are Airbnb and/or VRBO rental units and she prefers short term rentals. In our little town, there must be 50-100 rental houses that have been taken off the market by short term rentals. However, my teacher neighbors who have 2 incomes live very well in nice houses in the nicer part of town and can afford nice Suburbans – their combined income must approach 110-120,000 per year – married with 2 incomes seems to work nicely. Yes its true we have some of the lowest taxes in the nation and those savings should pass onto the teachers like they do to the rest of us. I also wonder if the 12% turn over rate isn’t concentrated in the counties with high cost of living expenses such as Teton county. Also, is the 12% turn over rate just for traditional teaching jobs or does it include administration, coaches and teachers assistants who receive much less than certified teachers.

    On a similar note, Wyoming prison guards and some Dept of Transportation employees are grossly underpaid and commonly move to adjacent states where they can double their income. I was shocked when I found out out what port of entry and prison guards made – it was far less than a liveable income and much less than teachers salaries.

    1. short term rentals, 2nd homes and massive rulebooks on new housing developments in a state that prides itself on “freedom” are destroying our state’s middle class.

      Until our legislators stop bootlicking the rich we will continue to spiral.

  5. I think that majority of funding for WY public schools does not come from property taxes, but the mineral excise tax fund. Is there another work field in the state that has seen a 12% resignation rate? LMK if you know of one!

  6. When push comes to shove. Our property taxes have been rising rapidly throughout Wyoming to such an extent that the legislature will examine the issue in the next session. The largest portion of the property taxes on my house go to the school district – by far the biggest recipient. This article clearly implies that the additional funds available to the school districts aren’t enough to cover the inflationary impact to salaries and expenses incurred by the districts. I would have thought the additional property taxes are keeping up with inflation but that doesn’t seem to be the case. What’s amiss here???? Property tax payers are screaming like hell about their rising property taxes and that increase isn’t enough to pay competitive salaries – and all of this in spite of the Federal Reserve Board taking strong measures in order to control inflation. I just read an article about rising property taxes in Colorado where many property tax bills are 40-65% higher and their legislature will probably put a 4-5.5% cap on yearly property tax increases – the situation in their school districts must be equally strained as in ours. Should the Colorado legislature cap property tax increases this year it seems inevitable that the school districts will suffer. The Wyoming legislature will likewise address this delicate issue shortly. And, those of us in Wyoming are well aware that the oil, gas and coal industries pay something like 70-80% of our taxes; and that, those industries are imperilled – things could get a whole lot worse if mineral income declines as projected – the school districts would be devastated by the reduction in income from the mineral industry. Its an inflationary Catch 22.

    1. Colorado has taxes from pot sales that go to schools. Wyoming schools also benefit from Federal mineral royalty taxes and vehicle registration fees. It’s not just property taxes that pay for schools.
      Our property taxes are still some of the lowest in the country. And remember, we don’t pay income tax, which many states use to feed their general fund. All we pay are sales tax ( pretty low and deductible) and property tax. We get way more out of what we pay versus the benefits we receive (toilets that flush, streets that are paved, excellent schools); we are the biggest welfare state in the nation. The citizens here don’t even come close to paying their way for all they receive. And By the way- we all want our property to be valued as high as possible, but we scream like hell when we have to pay taxes on that increased value!

      1. Excellent synopsis of the Wyoming tax environment. If some might be wondering how we got here ex-Gov Freudenthal’s book, “Wyoming: The Paradox of Plenty” helps explain that this has been a long time coming. No taxes, no services; it’s just math, not a Socialist plot.