The Legislature’s Joint Education Interim Committee voted 10 to three Thursday to support providing adjustments to school funding based on inflation.
The state is supposed to account for annual fluctuations in the costs of goods and labor when funding schools, but these inflation adjustments haven’t been made for the past four years. A coalition of school districts who spoke before the Committee Thursday say this has cost Wyoming’s school districts more than $150 million—and led to salary freezes, layoffs and program cuts.
Donna Little-Kaumo is Superintendent at Sweetwater County School District 2. She says Wyoming schools have been well-funded over the years, but lawmakers need to maintain that funding as costs rise.
“I would love for them to recognize that inflation exists—that in order for us to maintain our purchasing power with our model—which we love, it has to be adjusted for inflation on an annual basis,” said Little-Kaumo. “So that’s what I’d like to see happen.”
Some lawmakers say Wyoming has overfunded school districts in the past—and a freeze on inflation adjustments will allow things to level out. Republican Representative Matt Teeters co-chairs the education committee and says schools have more money than they need to run effectively.
“So all this rattling of sabers about a lawsuit I think is unwarranted,” said Teeters. “I don’t believe that we have funded in an unconstitutional manner. We want to be fair to everybody but at the same time we have a fiduciary responsibility to not spend more than we have.”
Teeters was one of three lawmakers who voted against recommending the so-called ‘external cost adjustment.’ The other two were Senators Hank Coe and Bill Landen.
Democratic Senator Chris Rothfuss made the motion to support the cost adjustment. Rothfuss disagrees that any ‘overfunding’ warrants ignoring inflation.
“We were overfunding it because we wanted excellence,” said Rothfuss. “And then we’ve been saying for the last several years, ‘Well, we’re funding at the highest level in the country, so we need to have an education that matches the highest level of education in the country.’ There’s two ways that you can bring those two in line. One is that we can try to raise up our education level, which is what I support. The other is that we can reduce our funding to the point that we’re mediocre again. And there’s a lot of people who are supporting that.”
Rothfuss and the majority of those on the Joint Education Interim Committee support reinstating an adjustment for inflation so that high level of funding can continue. The Committee made the same recommendation last year.
The Joint Appropriations Committee will issue its own recommendation on the matter when it meets October 30.