1,000-Plus Wyoming Teaching Jobs Could Disappear As COVID Money Runs Out

With the expiration of many COVID-19 grant-funded teaching positions this spring, more than 1,000 teaching positions in Wyoming public schools could disappear. Nearly 2,500 teaching jobs with federal COVID grant money.

Leo Wolfson

May 01, 20246 min read

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Although the teaching positions were never guaranteed as anything more than temporary, Cheyenne parent Megan Hesser is deeply bothered that teachers paid for with COVID-19 grant money are being cut in her children’s school district.

“It’s just really frustrating because they saw the need for extra support for kids who are struggling to read,” she said about why more teachers were temporarily hired. “It’s just really frustrating that they’ve had these positions for two or three years and they didn’t prioritize ways to maintain these positions.”

It’s difficult to say exactly how many COVID-funded teaching positions will be going away in Wyoming’s public schools, but it’s likely far more than 1,000.

According to the Wyoming Department of Education, 2,477.4 positions were funded through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) during the pandemic. To make these positions permanent, individual school districts would have to continue funding them with their own money into the future.

Money from the ESSER program will run out for most schools this spring, making this the finish line for most of the positions, however schools can apply for an extension to use the funds with the U.S. Department of Education if any money isn’t spent by that time. This could apply to a school that held back from using all its available money to extend the life of its possible use.

The ESSER money covered salaries for administrative staff, support personnel, teachers, contractors, nurses, counselors, bilinguals, paraprofessionals and special education staff.

In total, Wyoming was granted $303.7 million in America Rescue Plan Act ESSER money.

Never Permanent

Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder said the decision of whether to keep positions must be made at the district level.

When asked if she believes school districts should find ways to keep the positions, Degenfelder responded that “the federal government has always maintained that these funds would be temporary.”

That’s how Natrona County School Board Chairman Kevin Christopherson said he looks at the issue, and said the people hired for these roles were warned they were temporary.

“It was foretold that they were only couple-year positions,” he said. “They were told they would only exist as long as the money is there.”

Christopherson said the money paid for temporary nursing, psychology and virtual schooling positions in his district. Although many of the positions are being cut, he said a few are being kept.

“At some point you have to go back to normal,” he said. “We can only have so many employees. It’s tough.”

The federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic included money and grants for a wide variety of public programs. If it weren’t for the pandemic, it’s unlikely most of the additional teaching positions across Wyoming that were funded with the federal money would have been created.

Should Be Dealt With

Hessler believes this is irrelevant as reading deficiencies have been a long-documented issue in Wyoming and America.

“COVID didn’t create this problem,” she said. “These kids were struggling to read before COVID. COVID pulled back the curtain and a lot of parents got a glimpse.”

Early childhood literacy has been identified in numerous studies as playing a pivotal role in shaping a child’s future academic success and lifelong learning. Hessler said one of the biggest impacts that can be made on a student’s reading is for them to be taught by a specifically trained reading teacher.

According to U.S. National Center for Education Statistics data from 2023, around 65% of fourth grade students nationally are below a proficient reading level. The numbers aren’t much better in Wyoming, with that number around 62% to 50% depending on which test is referenced.

Hessler said there are about 90 positions set to go away in Laramie School District No. 1, the state’s largest school district. In LCSD1, some reading interventionist positions were created with the COVID money, including two at Hobbs Elementary where Hessler’s kids go to school. This came in addition to two part-time reading interventionist positions the district was already providing.

Hessler said similar academic interventionist roles were also added.

The presence of these teachers has a personal significance for Hessler as she has a daughter who struggles to read. These interventionists were geared toward students who struggled with reading but did not qualify for individualized education programs (IEP) or special education.


Hessler said she finds it hard to believe reading is a priority in LCSD1 based on the district’s unwillingness to continue paying for the positions, mentioning a recent $250,000 expenditure for a new human resources software program.

Although she said there was likely a fair number of students who graduated out of the reading services, she doubts they are no longer needed when considering that many of the students lost a substantial amount of learning time during the height of the pandemic.

She also has a son with dyslexia, who Hessler said will likely be forced to miss either recess or elective classes to fulfill his educational requirements with the district’s only dyslexia specialist, another position she believes there should be more of.

During a parent advisory meeting in January, LCSD1 Interim Superintendent Stephen Newton said the district is “on the cusp of having to make some wildly unpopular cuts” to programs and services when referencing the temporary positions expiring.

Fellow Cheyenne parent Jen Solis mentioned the ongoing controversy over school library books in her district. She finds the amount of time spent on this issue ironic when considering that illiterate children won’t be able to read many of the controversial books in question anyway.

“The school board wastes so much time on what the community doesn’t want,” Solis said. “If they need to spend more time on solutions for the next school year, we would be in a better place.”

There were also a few positions within the Wyoming Department of Education that were paid for with ESSER money that will be cut. Half of the salary of a state school nurse position was also paid for this money. Although this position is now vacant, Linda Finnertry, a spokesperson for the department, said the agency is still looking to fill it.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter