Embattled education voucher bill awaits Gov. Gordon’s signature

Funds would go to low-income families to help enroll kids in private or religious schools, grades pre-K through 12.

An education voucher bill is awaiting Gov. Mark Gordon’s signature. The bill, which is an attempt to increase access to school choice, will create savings accounts of up to $6,000 for low-income families. The funds may be used to help enroll kids in private or religious schools, grades pre-K through 12.

While the bill is meant to help families who are at or below 150% of the federal poverty level, as it is written families that earn up to 500% above that level are also eligible to receive assistance. For a family of four, that’s upward of $150,000 annually.

Brian Farmer is the executive director of the Wyoming School Boards Association, a service organization that advocates for school board members across Wyoming. He said that giving funds to those in higher income brackets may be unconstitutional.

“[A section of the constitution] basically says that the state shall give no money to individuals, except in support of the poor,” Farmer said. “So, I think that’s where some folks are still pushing for either vetoes, or legal challenges, is that the constitutionality of the legislation still remains in question.”

The bill will draw $20 million from Wyoming’s General Fund. Families that are interested in applying for vouchers will need to verify their income through the Wyoming Department of Education. To help with that effort, that department will get funding to hire two full-time employees.

While Farmer wonders whether the bill is constitutional, he said that getting more students in pre-K programs would be good for communities across Wyoming.

“We know that kids who have quality early childhood education are better prepared for school,” said Farmer. “And so to the degree that this bill might help enhance early childhood options for parents and families, helping to prepare kids for school, that is something that we are supportive of.”

If Gordon signs the bill, it will go into effect this coming July.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

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