Jun 2, 2017 - By Steven R. Peck, PublisherPreserve every possible dollar for public education in Wyoming
School is out. Several Fremont County public school districts end classes today. Others have done so already. District offices remain open year-round, of course, and there is a summer school term for a few students, but for the most part the faculty, staff and students are packing up, cleaning up, getting their final report cards, learning who their teachers will be in the fall, saying goodbye, and making plans for the long summer break.
Overlaying the 2016-2017 school year was a climate of uncertainty about money - how much there would be for schools, what the remaining money could and would be used for, and how long the statewide energy recession that has put the screws to school funding will last.
Later this year our Wyoming Legislature will be "recalibrating" the priorities for spending on education. The outcome of that process will have a lot to say about what our public education system looks like over the next decade.
Here's a suggested guideline: Preserve and protect every possible dollar for public schools.
Education has become a big and easy target for the budget axes. But every legislator who uses the public schools as a whipping boy for government spending, who sees a bulls-eye for reductions, and a political opportunity to demonstrate saving taxpayer money - every one of them ought to be required to spend a morning or two in the hallways, the playgrounds, the auditoriums and the classrooms of a public school. They should spend that day observing, evaluating, remembering, and perhaps volunteering.
Do that, and then decide if the money is being wasted.
This is one of the most important things we do as a nation, a state, a community. We educate our children, and we count on them to educate theirs, just as our parents did for us.
Fiscal reality always has been a part of the public school equation. It always will be, in good times and bad. But true extravagance in local schools is hard to find. Our schools are not equipped with escalators, putting greens and monorails. They are filled primarily with teachers and students, books and computers, desks, chairs and blackboards - or whiteboards these days - as well as something harder to add to an inventory list.
That less-tangible something is an amalgam of tradition, history, commitment and renewal. It continues to exist in every public school, and it ought to exist in every public official who has a hand in the future of public education.
Our news pages in recent days have included coverage of graduations, field trips, field days,end-of-year concerts, the conclusion of the sports seasons, the all-school play, and at least a half-dozen other school activities. Public education isentwined and intermingled with everything in the community.
One headline told of a longtime principal retiring after a career spanning decades in our local schools. Not long after, we published pictures of the first-ever "graduates" of the new all-kindergarten school at Aspen Elementary. Consider those bookends on the school year, and consider that school year part of the continuum of shared experience, shared accomplishment and shared dedication at every age level from 5 to 95.
Last winter there was a troubling remark by an elected official who said the community needed to "stop taking public education for granted." Wrong. We absolutely must keep taking it for granted. Itisgranted - granted under state law, granted through community custom, and granted by the backing of public funding endorsed by an electorate that long since has decided that public education is an essential way to spend public money. Handle cutbacks with the greatest care.
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