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Why Laid-Off Teachers Are Heading to Wyoming

In 1851, newspaper writer John Soule wrote 'Go west, young man', which would later become the motto of Manifest Destiny (the theory that it was America's destiny to spread and settle west across the country); such advice could be relevant for today's laid-off teachers in certain parts of the United States. Mountain states such as Montana, Utah and particularly Wyoming offer higher salaries than those to the east and west. But does higher pay necessarily translate into increased opportunities?

By Harrison Howe

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Where the Grass May Be Greener. . .Or Not

In September 2011, Stateline reported that an estimated 100,000 teachers lost their jobs across the United States in the past year. Eastern states like Rhode Island, New Jersey, Ohio and Michigan (where layoffs have been called 'epidemic' as more than 5,000 were cut from Detroit Public Schools alone) have been particularly hard-hit by teacher layoffs. And the Huffington Post reported in March 2011 that nearly 19,000 teachers in California received pink slips.

But all is not as bleak in every state. North Dakota and Montana rank first and second, respectively, in a list of states that have seen an increase in teachers. And Wyoming, which has been able to increase its state funding for education over the past several years due largely to its energy-richness, is not only hiring but is tops in starting salaries for teachers and is known for paying its educators very well.

Such promise is luring many out-of-work teachers across Wyoming's borders (applications for a teaching license by out-of-state teachers has increased a whopping 70% in just the last few years). Salaries in Wyoming are so attractive that even teachers from nearby mountain states like Idaho who are not laid off are making the move to the Equality State. But, as one would expect, what many are finding is that in some cases there are hundreds of applicants for a single teaching position. Despite its educational prosperity, there is a finite number of positions open in Wyoming schools and far too many out-of-state teachers seeking to fill them.

So, while Soule's words may have some meaning 160 years after they were written, at least to unemployed teachers from states where they may never stand in front of a classroom again, those thinking about heeding those words may want to consider that the answer to their current situation just may not lie in the mountains. Unlike those who made the trek in the 19th century, hopeful teachers will simply find that too many have come before them.

Earlier this year, the effects of budget cuts could be seen in major cities like Detroit and Providence, Rhode Island, as the two cities were threatened with massive teacher lay-offs.


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