After debating it for a few weeks, the Wyoming House gave final approval to a school finance bill. It includes budget cuts and adds revenue to make up for a $300 million budget shortfall for K-12 education.
After considering a variety of cuts, the House adopted an amendment by Speaker of the House Eric Barlow that will take away money the state pays school districts for health insurance policies that aren't currently being used. The phased-in cut will initially trim $60 million and grow over time. Barlow told the House that it's the best solution to cutting education funding and meeting constitutional mandates.
Casper Rep. Steve Harshman said the approach to cut and add revenue is a good one.
"The speaker talked about $325 million net over about three years. This is the biggest reduction proposal anybody has in either end of the building," said Harshman. "It's not perfect, but it's Abe Lincoln time. You don't measure whether it's perfect. It's probably got a little evil in there according to some of you. But does it have more good than evil? Sure it does."
The revenue that school districts will get comes from a mix of recently approved federal money, funding from the legislative reserve account, and a possible half cent sales tax in the future.
The House bill is substantially different from a school funding bill that passed in the Senate last week. Both sides will eventually have to reach a compromise on the best approach.