School Boards Face Decreased Funding And Special Education Freeze

May 6, 2019

During the 2018 Budget Session the legislature voted to freeze special education funding. The decision was a departure from a previous policy of reimbursing schools 100 percent for special education costs.
Credit Tennessee Watson / Wyoming Public Radio

School boards across Wyoming are in the midst of putting together budgets for the coming academic year. While lawmakers took a break from reducing education funding in 2019, they failed to identify new revenue and more stable funding for schools. K-12 education funding saw roughly $100 million in cuts between 2016 and 2018. School boards say they are still absorbing the shock of those cuts.

Nichole Weyer is the vice president of the Wyoming School Board Association and a school board member for Hot Springs County School District #1. She said she appreciates the legislature's work to balance the state's budget and acknowledges that other public services have also faced cuts.

Weyer said schools don't need an increase in funding but budgets need to keep pace with inflation.

"It feels like your school has less money because the inflation numbers have gone up so much and the funding as not kept up with that," said Weyer. "It makes it difficult to continue the programming that you have within your school."

Weyer said decreasing enrollment across the state as a result of a decline in energy industry jobs also means budget cuts for districts. She said in her district additional support in math and reading have been cut, along with some extra-curricular activities.

This is also the first year that school boards are dealing with a freeze to special education funding. Formerly districts were reimbursed 100 percent for money spent on special education services, but now spending is limited to what districts spent the year before. Weyer said that's a problem because districts can't predict when they'll need more money to cover students needs.

"For example, we might have every year one or two students that have to attend school in a different environment. We might not be able to serve them fully in our school so they might do a live-in program somewhere else. Those students can cost between $200,000 to $300,000 a year," said Weyer.

Weyer said this puts districts in a tough situation because they can't deny students special education services, but it's unclear how districts will cover unforeseen costs.