The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee will consider a measure Tuesday that would set aside public money for private and alternative schools and help pay for early childhood education. 

The draft legislation would authorize what are known as “education savings accounts,” financed by general fund dollars. Under the bill, Wyoming parents who meet certain income qualifications would be eligible for up to $3,000 a year to pay for costs associated with their childrens’ preschool education or non-public-school expenses. 

The committee will hear testimony and public comment on the proposal during its Aug. 8 meeting in Cheyenne.  

Rep. Albert Sommers. (Wyoming Legislature)

Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) brought the bill. 

“I look at it really as a compromise between those that want early childhood funding and those that want funding to go to private schools,” Sommers, the speaker of the House and a former committee member, said. Early childhood programs and literacy and school choice are No. 2 and 3 on the committee’s interim priorities, respectively.  

As the “parental choice” movement gains steam in conservative political circles, his attempt also represents what may be a more palatable version of twin education bills that failed in the 2023 session. Senate File 143 – Wyoming freedom scholarship act-2, sponsored by Sen. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle), and a similar House version proposed to give families $6,000 per student to go toward tuition at any school or educational expenses. 

That would have marked a major shift in Wyoming’s school funding model by redirecting federal mineral royalties from the School Foundation Program Account, which funds Wyoming’s public schools, to a new education savings account fund for families choosing to opt out of public school. The Legislative Service Office estimated that move would have shifted more than $100 million from Wyoming’s public school account in its first three years. 

Growing movement 

ESAs allow parents to withdraw their children from public schools and receive public funds in government-authorized savings accounts for expenses like private school tuition or homeschooling supplies. 

Thirteen states, including Montana, Utah and Arizona, have ESAs. Most have been enacted since 2020. At the end of the 2022-23 school year, roughly 63,000 students, or .12% of the nation’s 50 million public school students, were participating in an ESA program, according to EdChoice

The growing number of ESA states are part of a broader parents’ rights push favored by conservatives. Advocates say the accounts allow parents to tailor education to their children’s specific needs, and in keeping with a family’s particular values, in a way that isn’t subject to the rules of the public school system. 

The Legislature’s Education Committee is considering funding accounts that qualified parents could use for alternative education like home school. (MissMessie/FlickrCC)

Skeptics worry about accountability and a system not subject to educational regulations, arguing the money would be better spent in strengthening public education. 

Sommers designed his legislation specifically to avoid diverting public education funds; the bill proposes a $40 million general fund appropriation to create the account, as opposed to financing the program with School Foundation Program Account dollars. 

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder, who was elected in 2022, has been a vocal proponent of school choice. 

“The Superintendent continues to support education savings accounts and looks forward to this discussion,” Wyoming Department of Education Chief Communications Officer Linda Finnerty told WyoFile in an email. 

Lawmakers passed a bill in March creating the independent Wyoming Charter School Authorizing Board to oversee the approval of new charter schools. That board, which consists of three Degenfelder-appointed members, holds its first public meeting Thursday. 

How the law would work

The 29-page draft legislation offers guidance into how the ESA account would be set up and administered. Wyoming’s superintendent of public instruction would play a major role. Parents would enter into an agreement with the superintendent, who would then oversee the allocation of funds for qualifying expenses. 

Any child who is a Wyoming resident, whose household income is at or below 250% of the federal poverty level and who meets several other criteria would be eligible for an ESA. The child has to be at least 3 years old, but not have graduated from high school or completed an equivalent certificate. 

Tuition and fees at qualifying nonpublic schools, tutoring services not provided by family, special-education services, textbooks or other instructional materials, school uniforms, fees for summer education or after-school programs, exam fees and other expenses would all qualify for ESA coverage. 

ESAs should support students who can demonstrate financial need, Sommers said, hence the income qualification. 

“Then the other is, it should be able to be tacked to an early childhood program as well as K-12 program because we all know that early childhood [education] returns like three to one on its investment,” he said. “So that’s the goal is, can we come together kind of on a more comprehensive package and see if we can get it through.”

Wyoming lawmakers are studying early childhood education during the 2023 interim. (

The superintendent of public instruction would also be tasked with establishing a certification process for education service providers, which would be required to instruct K-12 students in, at minimum, reading, writing, mathematics, civics, history, literature and science. The bill also includes language for audits and handling any misused funds. 

The bill authorizes the WDE two full-time employees to help administer the program. It envisions the state superintendent would begin accepting ESA applications no later than Jan. 1, 2025. 

The Joint Education Committee meets Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. in Cheyenne, and the meeting is available to stream online. Members will also discuss the charter school authorizing board, teacher retention and another parental rights bill regarding classroom discussion of issues like gender identity.

Katie Klingsporn reports on outdoor recreation, public lands, education and general news for WyoFile. She’s been a journalist and editor covering the American West for 20 years. Her freelance work has...

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  1. I am a former teacher who taught in Wyoming for over 20 years. I taught at the elementary level in two different school districts, and afterwards substituted in a third district. I worked as a regular classroom teacher grades 1 and 3 and then as a title one teacher grades K-5. The lack of our students meeting the core standards, meeting the math and reading state and national standards was always below the requirements even before the years of COVID. A lot of our Wyoming students were not then and are not now reading or successful at doing math at their grade levels. So shouldn’t their parents have the right to choose the best education they can for their child. If their public school isn’t providing it then they should have the right to take their child elsewhere. Maybe with more competition the public schools will find a way to make themselves more competitive. Maybe they will then do better at providing what the parents want for their child and taking away what they don’t what (and yes I know these schools would loose money). As a teacher I used to not support private schools, homeschooling, etc. but if the public school isn’t providing the the education goals the child needs then why should anyone be forced to keep their child and their child’s education in a place of risk for them. I have total faith that the government will find multiple ways to check these schools and keep them in line.

  2. The public school system can never be what “it” considers adequately funded. They never have enough money or programs or government mandates. It is true, it is the choice of parents to send their children to private schools or home school them. However, their taxes are funding things in public schools now that average people historically would have found offensive. Public school advocates are terrified of school choice/vouchers because they know if private schools/home schooling get funded or partially funded through tuition assistance, the private schools will out-perform the public school system and they will actually have to compete for students. No one can deny that performance expectations have been lowered in the public school system significantly, just to boost the appearance of progress. Sometime we will all have to realize that what is at stake with our Nation is too important to continue the same old system that enhances unions and drains coffers but doesn’t produce students that can compete with the world and especially our enemies.

    1. This comment is a case study in the problem of disseminating untruths, even silly ones.
      I note especially this statement: “However, their taxes are funding things in public schools now that average people historically would have found offensive.” What exactly is being funded that “average people” “historically” would have found “offensive”? Who are these “average” people? And what would be offensive: lessons about historic facts? scientific truth? lessons in critical thinking? in justice and equality? democratic norms?
      What on earth is this comment talking about?

      I am a public school advocate, like all others, because I believe in democracy and equality, in opportunity and fairness. No public school advocate I have known or read or heard or met is “terrified” of school choice for reasons of competition. Again, what on earth has given people this false idea? If we can come to terms with that, we may make progress.

      1. Thanks for your critique. If public school advocates are not afraid of school choice/vouchers then why have those advocates and teachers unions worked to successfully kill so many bills brought forth in so many states for so many years? We all want education to be a successful endeavor, but to bow down to a system that is clearly failing in many ways and ignore other options is “silly “, to use your word. Unless of course the current system is a mechanism of power and social engineering that has been taken over by the left and uses political pressure to take care of their own at the expense of the child’s education. Oops, I let slip out what a lot of people are starting to suspect.

  3. This is the best version of a bad idea that I have heard. What’s good? The proof of financial need will help level the field. The auditing and misuse of funds is good if truly enforced. The acknowledgment of early childhood education is very important. If any of those elements get compromised, this will be a huge nail in the coffin of public education, our democracy’s keystone.

    1. Along these same lines, I am genuinely curious about the framing of this bill as a benefit to low- / mid-income families: 250% of Federal Poverty Level in 2023-2024 for a family of 4 is $75,000; for a family of 5, $87,850. So a mid- / higher-income family would not qualify for these funds. People who want to send their kids to private schools and can afford it will pay the tuition. And Sommers at least is linking the IDEA of lower-income ESAs to the social benefits of early childhood education.

      It would be useful for our elected leaders to frame things accurately so people can understand what they are voting for: this bill is not about “choice”; it is a redistribution of public assets to lower-income citizens.

      That said: it is far from clear that $3000 will help almost any Wyoming family provide a quality education for their children, certainly not better than our public schools. Indeed, there is a likelihood that as a group we will continue to further disenfranchise the working, rural poor by marginalizing them from modern, mainstream society. Pandering to anti-democratic, anti-public-school sentiment only continues this process of marginalization that harms our democracy. Furthermore, online schools and homeschooling, not to mention religious schools, are an inadequate substitute for community education that is the bedrock of our democracy.

      It doesn’t matter if you pull funds from the General Fund or School Account: it is Wyoming PUBLIC money given to PRIVATE education. And of course, Wyoming public schools receive state funding for enrolled students. At the very least, we should not allow any religious education whatsoever to be funded with our public monies, which is unethical and literally unconstitutional.

      Shouldn’t the time and resources of the office of our Superintendent of PUBLIC Instruction be spent on improving our PUBLIC schools and not wasted on what clearly would be a time- and resource-consuming bureaucracy that will serve the private interests of a few?!

  4. We already have school choice in Wyoming, and I am not completely opposed to the idea of an ESA. However, the same educational expectations should be applied to those receiving funds. Students should be required to take state proficiency exams, just like every other public school student. I do believe in parental rights, but if any public funds are received, we also have an obligation for the students rights to ensure they are not being neglected educationally. In rural Wyoming how many students with special needs, such as speech, OT, PT, or IEP’s may be lost through the cracks.

  5. Financially supporting these private schools would be a huge mistake. What is really happening is the ultra conservative movement which is pushing for financial aid to their Religious Charter Schools. Home Schooling, also, is a personal choice which should not be funded. Home Schooling students currently are allowed to participate in public school activities anyway. Big Mistake! You want to help education in Wyoming continue to be generous and support Public Schools, Staff, and Retired Teachers. Put your money in Public Education not private anything!

    1. I agree completely. What many are not thinking about is the larger social chasm this will create. Schools are a child’s first “melting pot”. Separating kids into home/religious/charter/public schools will contribute to the social division between religion/political leanings/ and norms. Elementary kids play with others that don’t look like them, don’t have the same language, and learn differently than they do. That’s what we need as a society.