CASPER, Wyo. — More first-time teachers are bringing their out-of-state educations to Wyoming, and money is the reason, according to a report released Thursday.
Seven out of every 10 new hires with bachelor's degrees in 2009 came from outside Wyoming. Compare that to about 55 percent in 2005, the year before education funding jumped from $770 million to $1.2 billion and base pay for first-year teachers increased by about $10,000.
Lawmakers requested information about teachers' educational backgrounds earlier this year to determine whether the hike resulted in more highly qualified hires.
The study examined “teacher quality” in terms of education level, rigor of academic institution, graduation rate, college grade-point average and undergraduate major.
Higher salaries have made a difference in recruiting and retaining new teachers but didn't have an effect on teacher quality, said Christiana Stoddard, a researcher at Montana State University.
“It doesn't mean salaries won't make a difference in the future, but at the moment we haven't seen much change yet,” Stoddard said.
Data for 83 percent of teachers hired between 2000 and 2009 was gleaned from the state's teacher certification agency. The task cost $85,000 and many, many man hours, said Richard Seeder of the Legislative Service Office. A series of reports was presented to the Legislature's Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration in September and on Thursday.
The committee meets every five years to “recalibrate,” or evaluate and modify the way the state funds public schools. Each school district receives money in a block grant, or sum determined by the cost of resources per student.
Teacher salaries in Wyoming fell below neighboring states in 2000 but have since climbed above regional and national averages. Wyoming's average teacher salary of $55,694 in 2009-10 ranked No. 16 in the nation — No. 1 when adjusted for cost of living, according to the National Education Association.
High salaries improved teacher recruitment and retention of new teachers, according to the report. Exit rates for new teachers in Wyoming are the lowest in the nation, Stoddard said. The exit rate of all teachers remained constant from 2000-09 but fell for new teachers from 17 to 15 percent.
Likewise, about 12 percent of teachers who left went to work in another Wyoming school district in 2008 — down from about 20 percent in 2000.
Exit rates were 60 percent or higher from 2006-08 in four school districts: Lincoln County 1, Sublette County 9, Fremont County 38 and Washakie County 2. At least half of the teachers who left the four districts transferred to other districts in the state: Fremont County 21, Park County 16 and Big Horn County 1.
Most of the teacher turnover in the state is now because of retirement.
Now that Wyoming is attracting more out-of-state teachers, school districts can be more selective, Stoddard said. Lawmakers discussed various ways to recruit talented teachers. Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, warned the panel against bashing teachers and their profession.
“We like our teachers, we want good teachers and we want them to go into the career,” Nicholas said.
Contact Jackie Borchardt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-266-0593.