If Wyoming gave out an award for political grandstanding, Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder would win hands down.

Opinion

Schroeder, in a batch of news releases, wants people to know he’s fighting the federal government with every fiber of his being. Because if he doesn’t, “We will forever be under the feds’ thumb, beholden to a controlling political mindset that wants to own every aspect of our lives, including our belief system.”

The superintendent called this “a defining moment for the identity and future of Wyoming and its schools.”

“We must break free if we are to be free,” Schroeder said, adding that what the feds want Wyoming to do is “morally repugnant” and “another breathtaking display of political ideology run amok.”

Wow! What on Earth is President Joe Biden’s out-of-control administration  doing to us now? It must be pretty heinous to merit such outrage from Wyoming’s top school official, even if he was not elected and doesn’t really represent anyone but himself.

It turns out Schroeder blew a gasket because the U.S. Department of Agriculture wants all food nutrition programs that receive federal funds to update their anti-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation and gender identity. 

The consequences for not complying with that policy, though, are incredibly stiff. The Wyoming Department of Education stands to lose $40 million a year in federal school lunch funds if the state actually complies with Schroeder’s hissy fit.

But not to worry, because he’s got it all figured out. Schroeder said Wyoming doesn’t need that dirty federal money and can just pay for the school lunch program on its own. Severing our dependence on federal dollars, he added, will be “liberating.”

If Schroeder wants to write a $40 million check, it’s fine and dandy, but I’m pretty sure his account would be overdrawn. The superintendent can’t even count on his state paycheck to cover a small portion of the tab, because once voters realize what he’s costing the state, I doubt many will want to give him the job for four more years. 

Republican candidate for state superintendent for public instruction Thomas Kelly (left) speaks with Brian Schroeder, who currently holds the office, at the state GOP convention in Sheridan on May 7, 2022. (Maggie Mullen/WyoFile)

Schroeder has been pretty busy since February, when Gov. Mark Gordon tapped him to fill the post vacated by Jillian Balow, who flew the coop to accept a similar post in Virginia. Schroeder has embraced every controversy that’s crossed his desk, including bills to prohibit teaching “critical race theory” and ban transgender athletes from competing in girls’ sports.

The Senate, which moves politically further right every session, passed both measures. But the House wisely recognized the bills as unnecessary and punitive, and said no.

It will be up to the Legislature to decide whether it’s worth $40 million to make a political statement to the federal government — the same one that has bailed out the Department of Education with hundreds of millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds since 2020.

In case lawmakers and voters have forgotten, the state will have an estimated $300 million budget shortfall per year when all the extra federal funds for K-12 schools run out. Do they really want to add a $40 million annual expenditure in response to a phony moral crisis just to help rile up the GOP’s base?

The reason so many red states have banned transgender female athletes from school sports is because it’s a proven winner for politicians. They know nothing ticks their voters off as much as the idea of transgender students using the school restroom or locker room of the gender they identify as, rather than the one they were assigned at birth.

That’s why Schroeder and others, including 26 state attorneys general, are howling that the feds are holding students’ lunches “hostage” until officials bow to their demand to be politically correct.

The problem is the claim is not true, and the opponents know it. 

Politico offered the clearest explanation I’ve found about what the government is asking states to do:

“The USDA guidance is only aimed at programs that receive federal nutrition money, not other aspects of school policy that may affect LGBTQ students. A USDA official emphasized that the administration wouldn’t pull funding from a school lunch program just because the state has restrictive laws around sports or bathroom access for transgender kids, nor because a school lacks an LGBTQ policy.

“Rather, individuals could only file complaints if they’ve been discriminated against by the specific school lunch program based on gender identity — for example, if they were denied food because they were transgender.”

It has nothing to do with bathrooms or locker rooms, so why does Schroeder so strenuously object to complying? He spelled out his unwarranted fears in a statement the department issued: “Washington has shown its hand, and will never stop at forcing its woke agenda and ever-changing value system on people who refuse to embrace it. Be fully assured, this is not the end – they will be back (i.e. boys in girls sports, forced usage of pronouns, etc.).”

At a recent Republican SPI candidate forum in Cheyenne, Schroeder said he spoke with the governor in May when the USDA announced the additions to food and nutrition programs’ anti-discrimination policies. He said Gordon told him he could “come out strong against this,” then walked his permission back and said the department must comply procedurally until the issue is resolved. 

Three days later, Schroeder rebelled after getting advice from lawmakers, State Treasurer Curt Meier and state SPIs around the country that having the state pony up the $40 million is definitely “doable,” he said.

“I called my people in, and I said I didn’t like [the policy], I wasn’t comfortable with it, and we’re not going to comply,” he recalled.

Schroeder said some DOE employees disagreed, and told him, “You’re going to lose the election.”

“I said that’s fine, so be it,” he said. “This is a high enough hill to die on. I know where the Wyoming people are at on this. We’re not going to comply, and we’re in good company: 26 other states have linked arms and are pushing back, and the Biden administration already is backing off.”

Except no one is backing off. Last week the USDA sent a letter to the states that have objected to the policy, reminding them the Aug. 3 deadline to put it into effect still applies.

The only Democratic SPI candidate is Sergio Maldonado Sr. of the Wind River Indian Reservation. Last week he issued a statement that said Schroeder’s comments “would be laughable, if it were not for the fact that his brazen display of bigotry is harmful to Wyoming’s children, putting some kids in danger while displaying complete ignorance and lack of respect for marginalized people.”

Maldonado added there is no way the state will turn away federal dollars when tax revenues to fund public education have drastically fallen. He correctly called Schroeder’s posturing “ridiculous.”

It’s also self-serving. Gordon said the policy can’t be decided until the Legislature meets in January and considers its funding options. That gives Schroeder the opportunity to score political points by making inflammatory remarks about a non-issue that won’t even be considered until two months after the general election.

Schroeder claims the moral high ground and even says it’s worth losing the election if he can keep transgender students out of the “wrong” bathroom — even though the policy at stake has nothing to do with bathrooms but simply making sure low-income LGBTQ kids aren’t denied meals.

Let’s act according to our core moral values: respect and fairness to all. If we can’t simply agree to investigate any claims of gender identity discrimination in school lunch programs, the moral high ground is not only gone, we’ve hit rock bottom.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. A predictable distraction into identity politics to avoid discussing the US House candidate debate you hyped up for months. The tactic is as glaringly obvious and hilarious as the old “talking stain” commercials.

  2. I guess nobody cares that our education system is failing to provide education, but has been changed since the creation of the Federal Department of Education and now is really a babysitting and feeding service with a healthy side dish of leftist indoctrination.

  3. If you like what the Taliban are doing in Afghanistan , you’ll positively adore Brian Schroeder.

    – from Cody

  4. This is what happens when your hiring pool consists of religious fundamentalists from private “christian” schools.

  5. I’m just appalled that someone like Schroeder was appointed his position in the first place. There are so many good and competent educators in this state. His nonsense is so far from what he should be doing. Radical religious fundamentalism is right! We need him OUT!

  6. Dear mr. Drake,
    I spent 38 of my 50 years in a variety of educational leadership positions throughout Wyoming, and often worked directly with persons at the highest levels in our state system. Much of my success has been at the “cutting edge” in a variety of areas not only in General Education but also in Special Education, minority populations, Technology, Professional Development, and School Improvement. In my opinion, your remarks are “spot on” regarding the current candidates who’ve placed their names on the ballots. One of the hallmarks I’ve used in considering a person’s suitability for the position has been the depth and breadth of their experience directly not only as K-12 educators but even more specifically in Wyoming K-12 public school buildings and classrooms. I’m not aware of any of these candidates meeting that criterion.

    It is indeed unfortunate, again in my opinion, that our Wyoming Constitution subjects the State Superintendent position to politics; it should be a non-political position chosen by the Wyoming School Board just as local superintendents are selected by local boards. The Governor appoints members to that Board, which injects a bit of the political, but members must represent designated components directly related to our K-12 system. This would assure a professional educator leading our state rather than someone lacking the necessary background and experience to understand our rather complex tapestry of unique needs in funding, services to special populations, geographic concerns of isolation and climate, and technological support.
    I’m hopeful that perhaps some person emerges as an Independent to whom I can comfortably lend my support as a retired professional who has loved this state for 50 years.

  7. Schroeder continues to push his far right, religious fundamentalism on everyone. I will not be voting for him, and hope others follow suit.

  8. I noticed that none of Schroeder’s GOP opponents called him out for his grandstanding position. That simply tells me that Schroeder’s GOP opponents will adopt and/or co-opt his position in this case just as they have in supporting his positions on teaching American History and the promotion of sectarian charter schools (see Hillsdale College’s “Classical Academy” promotion in Cheyenne and Casper led by state legislators Jared Olson [Cheyenne] and Charlie Scott [Casper]. Only Democrat candidate Sergio Maldonado has spoken out against Schroeder’s position.

  9. It’s pretty pathetic that GOP adults in this state who are so “pro life” can be so petty to gain political clout they are willing to play with the lives of children – especially a population that is already at higher risk of suicide (not like ALL Wyoming youth aren’t already at higher risk), just so they can keep the right to refuse to give a gay kid a sandwich? So sick of Republicans that keep yelling about being afraid of loosing their precious “freedoms”, yet they are they only ones trying to take peoples freedoms away.
    Our schools and the state budget as a whole can’t afford to loose $40 million when we have a legislature that won’t raise any revenue, wants to give government welfare the coal companies, and even as the needs of citizens of the state increase – their only response is for every agency to continue cutting budgets…for like the last 8-10 years!
    Like I said, pathetic, especially from a so called “Christian” educator.

  10. We’ll written, however are Wyomingites intelligent enough to really understand this great expose?

  11. Thank you Kerry. I received a text from Schroeder a few days ago saying something about ending our dependence on federal money for education. My thought was, wow, how can the state obtain even more money from the federal government to improve our education system? Especially if it involves providing nutritious meals to children at school? Can we obtain more money so that each school composts the food waste, or has 100 hens they supplement with the scraps so the cooks can scramble up the eggs from the school hens every morning?

    The text included a vague “opt out” which was if you didn’t want to receive more texts to reply STOP 2. You would think that the man in charge of education would write more clearly than that.

    If anything, Wyoming must move to improve school lunches. I know that so many families benefited immensely from the free lunches that the Covid emergency money gave. How does this weird messaging from Schroeder sit with Mrs. Gordon who has worked tirelessly to help with childhood hunger in Wyoming? Should someone reach out to her for her thoughts on this issue?

    Let’s work as hard as Mrs. Gordon has on the issue of child hunger in Wyoming. If the USDA is now mandating that schools have to feed all children, then so be it. Honestly, I can imagine the scenario where a school tries to deny marginalized children food because it’s not expressly prohibited by law.

    Thank you for bringing attention to this story. Good work.

  12. So Schroeder thinks transgender kids shouldn’t be able to eat?

    Political doctrine and grandstanding aside, it’s absolutely frightening that someone with this level of critical thinking skills is somehow in charge of anything in state government.

  13. Finally! Someone is telling it like it is! Again another Republican is taking on a problem that does not exsist, offering meat to the far right nut jobs that only true agenda is to form a more perfect state where here reality is ignored and science is ignored. Let’s just trash those that are not a perfect images of Adam and Eve forget about them or treat them differently. God does not make mistakes! I’m sorry but this is just the tip of the iceberg if your not straight and narrow when it comes to sexual orientation or gender. Could we be moving down a path of of criminalizing these issues again. We’re a civilized country but I can see little pink and blue triangles in our future!