During the upcoming budget session, lawmakers want to take a closer look at transportation and special education funding, as a part of a larger effort to reform and possibly reduce spending in the K-12 finance model.
Most of what school districts spend on education is covered in a block grant they receive from the state. But transportation and special education are outside that model, and districts instead bill the state for a 100 percent reimbursement.
Policymakers who are considering cutting costs, want to make sure the state is reimbursing only what is necessary, so two legislative committees are trying to strengthen guidelines for those expenditures.
Transportation funding was frozen during the 2017 legislative session. Speaker of the House Steve Harshman pointed out that even though the state has temporarily vowed not to increase spending in the future, busses are still out there running, and they would eventually need major repairs and replacement.
Harshman urged his fellow lawmakers to act soon to implement efficiencies, or it could end up costing the state more down the road. State-hired consultants told lawmakers the state could do more to guarantee that busses are running at capacity.
When it comes to special education, an increase in students on individualized education programs, or IEPs, has also meant an increase in spending. Special education program directors from several districts made public testimony to the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration on Monday. Many said the increase in services is due to an increase in need. There are theories about what’s driving that, but no concrete research was presented to the committee.
Some lawmakers question whether the state’s 100 percent reimbursement policy isn’t leading to overspending. Others like Representative Cathy Connolly want to see more research done on the positive outcomes of the legislature’s healthy investment in special education. She pointed to a possible correlation between the increase in special education and an increase in the state’s graduation rates.
There are a lot of questions on the table, but lawmakers aren’t starting at zero when it comes to getting answers. Pinedale Representative Albert Sommers said it’s actually something the Wyoming Department of Education has already been working on, and school districts have been collaborating on both transportation and special education to cut costs when they can.
“There have been these rules in the making for a long time, but they just haven’t come to fruition.”
Sommers said now it’s time to put them into action. “Hopefully in a thoughtful manner, where we take a hard look at both of these issues and where we can do the right thing for students and the right thing for Wyoming.”
Two education committees are proposing legislation to strengthen guidelines for transportation spending. One of those bills also proposes looking at special education practices.