CHEYENNE – The state’s top K-12 education official said Wednesday that Wyoming will not comply with recent rules from the federal government barring additional types of discrimination in exchange for getting money for subsidized school lunches.
Potentially millions of dollars in lost federal funding could be at stake. An education association and a civil liberties group, when contacted by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, criticized the latest iteration of State Superintendent for Public Instruction Brian Schroeder's stance on the federal money.
On May 5, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had stated that all state and local agencies funded by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) must update nondiscrimination policies to include new provisions for gender identity and sexual orientation, according to the office of Schroeder. In the last month or so, he has been issuing a series of statements against the federal rules.
In a news release late Wednesday afternoon, Schroder noted that he “opposed this action in the strongest terms possible on legal, political and moral grounds.” The USDA’s recent action apparently stems from an executive order signed on Jan. 20, 2021, the day Joe Biden was sworn in as president. The order directed “federal agencies to promulgate or revise rules enforcing the Administration’s new ‘Anti-Discrimination’ mandates,” according to Schroeder’s interpretation.
Now, the superintendent is saying, “We will not comply,” according to the latest announcement. As he said during a local candidates forum this week, he noted that he has been “consulting with other state education superintendents around the country, numerous Wyoming legislators and governing officials, as well as the AG’s office and other legal authorities.” Schroeder said that 26 state attorneys general “are linking arms and demanding a retraction.”
State Treasurer Curt Meier “and a host of Wyoming’s state leaders have assured me that Wyoming has the money to cover these lunches,” Schroeder said. (Meier and the Wyoming’s AG’s office didn’t comment right away.) The Wyoming Department of Education would fall under the USDA’s mandate, WDE said, “as it receives about $40 million per fiscal year from FNS.”
Although some with other-than-heterosexual orientations contend Wyoming should do more to crack down against discrimination of all types, the superintendent contends that is not necessary. His recent comments also had prompted a scathing open-letter response from groups including the Wyoming Education Association, Wyoming Equality and ACLU Wyoming.
On Wednesday night, WEA President Grady Hutcherson challenged "Schroeder and all Wyoming leaders to become more educated on the issues impacting LGBTQ+ youth and their families in our state." To "protect students against discrimination in Wyoming schools," Hutcherson added in a written statement, requires "the will of the Wyoming people, and the determination of Wyoming's governing leaders. If we don't fight discrimination, we enable it."
An ACLU representative called the superintendent's comments "discriminatory rhetoric." Schroeder "claims that the federal government is forcing a political ideology on Wyomingites. Since when did equality become a political ideology?" asked Libby Skarin, campaigns director for the ACLU of Wyoming, in an emailed statement.
In the view of Schroeder, USDA’s “move not only represents the latest example of federal overreach, but one more blatant violation of state sovereignty,” he wrote. “Our Wyoming Constitution (Article 1, Sections 2 & 3) already prohibits discriminating against any human being, for any reason. We don’t need the Nanny State holding our hands and telling us how to interpret or apply our laws.”
USDA has not been commenting on Schroeder’s criticisms, and a message Wednesday was not immediately returned.
Even with WDE’s latest reaction to the federal agency, “vulnerable children will not go unfed in Wyoming, and we will not allow boys in girls’ locker rooms,” Schroeder said. “We categorically reject gender ideology and will not bow to the coercive will of a bully government.”
In his statement, he later said that “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 (i.e. boys in girls sports, forced usage of pronouns, etc.).”
The education official said he was not seeking a special session of the Wyoming Legislature. “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 went on to say.
“The Wyoming Legislature is constitutionally obligated to fund our public schools, and I will support (and encourage) all efforts to begin the process of cutting ties with federal funds while upholding the constitutional mandate to financially sustain Wyoming public education. Such action, of course, would have to be a phased endeavor, but it is completely doable.”