Senator Craft Talks About Her First Term as a Wyoming Senator, Education in Wyoming, and Why Being a WEA Member is So Important
Senator Craft “really loved” her first Senate term and said she found it to be a very cooperative group. “People really try to work toward compromise,” she said.
As one of the few Democrats in the Senate, and one of only two females, Senator Craft said she always felt welcome. “I am listened to. I am respected,” she said. “The Senate is extremely respectful of differing opinions – a real example of respect.”
Senator Craft also enjoyed her time in the House and does miss a lot of colleagues on the “other side,” but talked about the experience of the Senate and the fact that there is a great deal of institutional memory and experience there. The House does have experienced members, but has more turnover in elections than the Senate side; there were only two new members in the Senate this past session, as opposed to 17 new House members. Highlighting differences between the two bodies, a Legislative Service Office staffer put it well: “The House is rock n’ roll, and the Senate is classical music,” Craft quoted.
Before becoming a Wyoming Senator representing the 12th District, Bernadine Craft served in the Wyoming House for three terms, representing the 17th District. Craft was sworn in as a State Senator on January 7, 2013, and was subsequently selected to be Senate Minority Whip. She serves on numerous Senate committees; you can view a complete list of her assignments at: http://legisweb.state.wy.us/LegislatorSummary/LegDetail.aspx?LegID=993
Big Education Stories from the 62nd Legislature
A triumph for Senator Craft during this past session was the passage of the bill that creates the Wyoming Adjunct Professor Loan Repayment Program. This program helps public school teachers who meet certain qualifications to obtain the necessary qualifications to teach concurrent enrollment classes. The issue was that many high school instructors around Wyoming aren’t certified to teach at the college level, perhaps because they are missing a few necessary content classes– this bill provides teachers the financial help they need to get those last few classes in order to be so qualified. Sen. Craft said, “This type of legislation came from the ‘trenches,’ so to speak. It came from teachers saying, ‘Maybe if we had a little help, we could teach more college classes.’” Craft remembers this bill being tough to pass because it had an appropriation attached, but this means a lot to the individuals who teach now and want to obtain that college certification to teach at an advanced level.
Senator Craft knows Wyoming has some of the best education funding best in nation, and that our graduation rates and academic performance are above average. “We’re proud that we fund, but we need accountability of where money is going, and I’m not just saying assessment,” Senator Craft said. “We need to start listening to people in the classroom – people on the frontlines – or we’re going to have problems,” she said. “It’s critical – it can’t come from the top down. It’s got to come from the teachers, and this doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.
Why the WEA is the Professional Choice
Senator Craft joined the Wyoming Education Association “a long time ago” as a junior high school counselor. “When I was asked to join, I never hesitated, because it is the professional association to belong to. It’s part of my identity,” she said. “We clearly define ourselves as professionals, and the WEA benefits everyone in education. It’s your responsibility to be a member and contribute. It’s who I am. It defines me. It’s my professional duty,” Craft said.
Lobbying by the WEA and its members is best done before the legislative sessions – not in Cheyenne. “What I find helpful, what I appreciate, and what I love is when somebody calls me and says, ‘Let’s chat about things,’ because then, you have that person’s time and attention,” Craft said. WEA members really do great research and approach legislators well before the session, when there is time to think and have dialogue. “Actual sitting down with folks is the very best,” Craft said.
Senator Craft said that she sees very important education decisions being made by some who, although very well-intentioned, might not have a clear grasp of what it’s like to be an educator in Wyoming. It’s important that legislators understand that changes aren’t going to happen overnight.
Outside of the legislative session is when people can really be involved in what happens with their legislators. “If you’re not part of the process to effect the kind of changes you want to see, then work to get you what you like or end up liking what you get,” Craft said. The issues that the WEA lobbies are always to benefit members and/or students. “Active member or not, you live with the political consequences. Have a voice in that!”