Better Wyoming conducted a series of interviews on important state issues throughout 2016. Below is an interview with Affie Ellis.
Does the state need to fund early childhood education?
Two of my kids have gone through kindergarten, and there are definitely some children teachers are inheriting who are struggling to identify numbers and letters. So you see these kids starting off with a pretty severe disadvantage compared to other kids who have had some early education, either through preschool or being home with a parent. So I certainly think that’s an important conversation for Wyoming to have.
I don’t know that money is necessarily the answer, but I don’t think we’ve had an in-depth conversation about the connection between early education [programs] and the impact it has on assessment standards, which we do pay a lot of attention to. Day care is wildly expensive, and I’m very sympathetic to families who don’t have the resources and income ability to match the quality of care they’d like for their children to receive.
How do you feel about the state’s funding of K-12 public education?
Wyoming has invested heavily in Wyoming’s education system by supporting strong teacher salaries and by devoting great attention to how Wyoming’s accountability system should be structured. Wyoming has also invested in infrastructure. As a mother of three small children, two who are in elementary school, I am concerned that declining revenue will translate into cuts in the classroom before administrators seek efficiencies. In education, I will strongly advocate for policies that put kids first.
How should the state of Wyoming use the money that goes into temporary savings?
We may be drawing the Legislative Stability Reserve Account, better known as the “rainy day fund,” down too quickly.
Others are looking at an increase in taxes so we can raise more revenue. I have concerns about that … when we’re sitting on reserve funds. My analogy is a situation where a spouse loses their job, so the family cuts down on spending and uses their savings as long as they can. And I think Wyoming should do the same. Families should use their savings before they ask anyone else to pay their bills.
I really feel there are no absolutes here, but I’ve visited the county sheriff’s office and learned how cuts in services like mental health and substance abuse programs are affecting their ability to keep [everyone] safe. I have real concerns when they are released out to the community — are we keeping our streets safe? So I definitely think there are times when we need to have the conversation about when do we tap into those rainy days funds. I think we need a balance and a mixture going forward.
Should Wyoming approve Medicaid expansion?
Medicaid is not at the top of the list of what I’m hearing about. At some level when the state doesn’t offer medical insurance to 20,000 eligible folks we see those folks ending up in the emergency room for care, and then the cost of Medicaid is passed on to those of us who do have health insurance. Or it leaves hospitals holding the bag [to make up the cost of] uncompensated care. … asked the state Department of Health to give her a briefing about Medicaid expansion so she can understand the issue better. I’m not interested in making quick decisions without having facts.