Attorney Warns Education Budget Cuts Could Be Unconstitutional

Jan 17, 2017

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The Wyoming Constitution mandates that the legislature provide for public schools and present a balanced state budget, which puts legislators in a tight position this session as they contend with a $400 million shortfall in the education budget.

To help address the funding crisis and keep the state out of court, the House Education Committee invited Michael O’Donnell, the State’s Council for School Finance, to present at a special information session.

O’Donnell reminded lawmakers about a series of Wyoming Supreme Court decisions which he referred to as the Campbell cases, where the state was sued for not providing for an adequate and equitable education for every student.

O’Donnell said the current funding model was created in response to that litigation, and he urged legislators to take time to re-examine the current model and to make changes to what they see as adequate before making any cuts.

“One thing that you want is to be careful as we do this. It requires an examination, and it’s not just a rote thing,” said O’Donnell.  

Increasing class size to reduce education spending was one potential cost saving measure discussed during the information session with O’Donnell, but he cautioned: “to make sure that in your cuts, however you do it, that you don’t somehow affect what you said is the required delivery.”

That means before lawmakers cut teacher salaries they would need to redefine what they see as an adequate and equitable student to teacher ratio in order to avoid litigation in the future.

The legislature already does a recalibration -- or revision -- of the school funding model every five years as mandated by the Wyoming Supreme Court. The last one was done just two years ago,  but Senator Jeff Wasserburger said with major cuts on the table there’s nothing that would stop the legislature from doing an overhaul on the school funding model sooner.

“I think that the legislature is perfectly ok looking at recalibration, maybe in this next interim with the so called super committee.”

He said the issue could also be taken up in standing committees, like appropriations, revenue and education.