A recent survey showed that Wyoming residents support public education in the face of budget cuts.
A July telephone survey of 500 registered Wyoming voters found that 78 percent of voters would support tax increases if the money went to fund K-12 schools, though the amount varies.
Public Opinion Strategies, a national Republican pollster, conducted the statistically valid survey.
Kathy Vetter, president of the Wyoming Education Association, said she commissioned the survey to better understand how Wyoming residents feel about funding public education.
“The main reason is that we wanted to find out how the voters in Wyoming feel about K-12 education funding and how they feel about the possible revenue streams that the Legislature talked about last year,” Vetter said. “I think it shows that the citizens of Wyoming highly value our education.”
Four in 5 Wyoming voters surveyed said that even with tough economic times, K-12 public school budgets in Wyoming shouldn’t be cut further.
Last winter legislators trimmed $34 million but still face a shortfall between spending and revenue that could reach $530 million in the upcoming two-year budget cycle that begins in July.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the poll shows that support for raising taxes crosses party lines. The Republican Party is usually against raising taxes.
The Casper Star-Tribune reported in August that Gov. Matt Mead said he’d generally rather dip into the state’s cash reserves than raise taxes.
The survey consisted of 67 percent Republican voters, with 13 percent independents and 20 percent Democrats polled — numbers that are consistent with the makeup of Wyoming.
Of those polled, 74 percent of Republicans said they were willing to pay more in taxes to fund education, while 84 percent of independents and 88 percent of Democrats were in support, too.
“I was a little bit surprised,” Vetter said of the bipartisan support. “With us using the largest Republican pollster in the nation and polling every single county in a representative way, I was pleasantly happy with the way it turned out — people across political lines do support our education.”
The amount people were willing to add to their taxes varied. Thirty-two percent were comfortable with $200 or more a year, 10 percent with $150 more, 15 percent with $100 more and 21 percent with $50 or less.
The survey found the most support for increasing state taxes on wind energy production, mining, and oil and gas, and less support for increasing the state sales tax or property taxes.
The survey also showed that 78 percent of voters think education spending is where it should be or falling short, and 16 percent believe education spending is more than what it should be.
Legislators have compared education spending in Wyoming with the budgets of neighboring states in the past and pointed out that our state spends much more per student. But the survey also showed that voters think the best ways to maintain the quality of public schools are costly, like maintaining teacher pay and small classroom sizes.
The Legislature decides what a quality education entails by determining what’s called a “basket of goods” and how much it costs to provide those services.
The basket, Vetter said, should provide a well-rounded education for all students in the state, no matter where they live.
“That way they are prepared for whatever they decide to do after they graduate from high school,” Vetter said. “In these days young people change jobs a lot more often, so we need to make sure they receive that well-rounded education so they are continuing to learn throughout their lifetime.”
Vetter said she is optimistic that support for public education won’t falter.
“If you look at the history, our elected officials do have a history of supporting education in Wyoming,” she said. “I hope that continues.”