Wyoming has the money to feed school children in need of lunches, so the state need not comply with a federal mandate espousing gender ideology, the Wyoming Department of Education announced Wednesday.
“Treasurer Curt Meier and a host of Wyoming’s state leaders have assured me that Wyoming has the money to cover these lunches,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder. “We can cut ties with these federal lunch dollars and still provide for Wyoming kids – it only requires two things: the will of the Wyoming people, and the determination of Wyoming’s governing leaders. If we don’t fight this, we enable it.”
But Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon’s office is urging caution, saying the federal mandate could impact a lot more than school lunches.
“The Governor believes that any discussion to withdraw from its funding streams should be considered by the incoming Legislature,” said Michael Pearlman, a spokesman for Gordon.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on May 5 announced it was linking its school lunch funding, including $40 million to Wyoming, to a requirement that all funded schools update their non-discrimination policies to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
Wyoming’s leaders bristled, especially in light of recent federal court ruling that said only having bathrooms labeled for boys and girls is a form of gender identity discrimination.
“I immediately opposed this action in the strongest terms possible on legal, political and moral grounds,” Schroeder said Wednesday.
Attorney General Bridget Hill and 25 other attorneys general also disputed the mandate, pointing to the fact federal officials failed to collect public input prior to its development.
“Undoubtedly, the USDA will face a flurry of lawsuits once rules made pursuant to the Executive Order are promulgated,” said Schroeder, referencing a January 2021 executive order by President Joe Biden advocating for additional LGBTQ protections.
Money On Hand
When faced with the ultimatum, Schroeder in early June said that Wyoming would have to comply with the mandate until the Wyoming Legislature scraped together the funding to cover school lunches historically covered by the USDA.
In the 2018-2019 school year, Wyoming schools gave out 3,017,251 free lunches and 918,463 reduced-price lunches.
But now, Schroeder’s Wednesday announcement advocates for the state to cover the cost of lunches if it needs to remove itself from the USDA program.
Prior to Schroeder’s announcement, Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, said last week that he would seek ways to fund the school lunches as well.
“I call on all Wyomingites to appeal to their local legislators concerning the liberating prospects of severing our dependence on federal dollars,” said Schroeder. “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.”
Schroeder listed concerns with issues such as forced usage of alternative or cross-gender pronouns and boys playing in girls sports.
The Wyoming Legislature is constitutionally obligated to fund public schools, though it is allowed to accept outside funding.
“I will support (and encourage) all efforts to begin the process of cutting ties with federal funds,” while upholding the Constitutional mandate to support education, Schroeder said.
Schroeder clarified that the withdrawal from federal lunch funding may have to be a “phased endeavor” but said it is “doable” and he is committed to proceed “in a prudent manner.”
Lastly, Schroeder added, he does not intend his statement to call the Wyoming Legislature into a special session.
“But at some point, we need to move on this or 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,” he said. “This is a defining moment for the identity and future of Wyoming and its schools. We must break free if we are to be free.”
The Wyoming Legislature’s regular session convenes in January 2023.
Gov. Mark Gordon on Wednesday said that he disagrees wholly with the mandate, calling it “improperly crafted and completely unnecessary” and emphasized that the Wyoming Constitution already requires fair treatment for all.
Gordon, who asked Hill to send the letter demanding a retraction from Biden, vowed to oppose the federal mandate and study ways to maintain local control.
However, Gordon’s office also said it’s too soon to pledge state funds to cover the differences, since the sweeping change in the national Title IX Civil Rights language on which the USDA predicated its mandate could affect much more than school lunches.
“We are already having discussion within the executive branch about the true impact and costs associated with this proposed USDA rule, which could go much beyond the food assistance program,” said Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman in a text to Cowboy State Daily. “We could be talking about a much higher dollar figure, as Title IX funding extends well beyond school nutrition programs.”