school funding

As part of an ongoing effort to root out inefficiencies in public education, lawmakers have asked the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) to draft rules that strengthen guidelines for special education spending. Wyoming is the only state to reimburse school districts 100 percent for special education services.

Wyoming Legislature Senator Eli Bebout
Bob Beck

The Wyoming Legislature still has work to do. Despite working for 20 days the House and Senate will reconvene later this week to hopefully reach a compromise on one bill that funds building projects and another that trims school funding. 

Wyoming Legislature

The Senate Education Committee stripped out innovative school funding amendments out of a bill after committee members declared the ideas move not germane to the original bill. They also amended the bill so that it resembled a measure that died in a house committee earlier this year.   

Speaker of the House Steve Harshman and House Education Chairman David Northrup were frustrated with the move. They disagreed that the funding proposals didn’t belong in the bill. Northrup says new revenue for education is needed.

Tennessee Watson

A senate bill proposing over $40 million in cuts to education over the next several years died in the House Education Committee Friday.

 

Committee members raised concerns about proposed increases in class sizes, as well as, a change to how the state adjusts funding when districts have declining enrollment. Currently, if districts lose students, their funding decreases based on a three-year rolling average. The proposed legislation wanted decreases to take effect within one year.

 

A bill that would remove several million dollars from the education funding model was approved on second reading despite some amendments.  The bill was changed to reduce cuts that most school districts would face to roughly three percent.

Wyoming Department of Education

In his State of the State address, Governor Matt Mead urged the legislature to find ways to stabilize education funding, which relies heavily on revenues from the energy industry. But attempts to diversify the tax base — to protect school finance from booms and busts — have gone nowhere. Lawmakers who oppose generating new revenue sources say school finance is too opaque. They want more time to settle their uncertainty.

 

Ten months and $800,000 later, the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration has completed its in-depth look at how Wyoming finances education. Members of APA Consulting, who were tasked with examining the equity and adequacy of the school funding model, told lawmakers the state’s current approach works but pointed out areas for improvement. Despite a recommendation to spend more, lawmakers are opting to spend less.

Tennessee Watson

Despite 10 months of work, a legislative committee has rejected changes to the school funding model. After examination, APA Consulting produced a similar price tag for funding K-12 education as what the state was spending before the last round of cuts.

 

In its last meeting before the legislative session, the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration refused to adopt the new model suggested by APA.

 

Screenshot from the APA Consulting survey

Leading up to the 2018 budget session, Wyoming lawmakers hired education consultants to study the school funding model.

 

The idea was to find ways the state can save money while still meeting its constitutional obligation to provide all students with a proper education. The consultants have released a 552-page draft of their recommendations and they’re taking public feedback through an online survey.

 

Natrona County Schools

With close to 1,000 empty seats across the school district, Natrona County will close four schools next fall. Administrators say the decline in enrollment is due to a downturn in the energy industry, which has also brought reductions in state funding for education.

 

Tennessee Watson

The Wyoming Education Association, or WEA, released the results of a survey Wednesday that says the majority of Wyoming voters don’t support further cuts to education.  

The WEA hired Public Opinion Strategies to conduct a phone survey with 500 Wyoming voters across the state. Kathy Vetter, president of the WEA, explained her organization felt it was important to contract with the largest Republican pollster in the nation to do the survey given the political makeup of the state.

Tennessee Watson

Wyoming spends significantly more on education than most states. The national average is around $12,000 per student each year, while Wyoming spends over $19,000. But Wyoming’s funding deficit has caused policy makers to question what exactly the state is paying for, and if the high price tag is required to provide a quality education. 

On Tuesday, legislators on the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration met for the first time with APA Consulting — a firm contracted to help re-evaluate the state’s educational program and funding model.

Office of Governor Matt Mead

The accounts that fund education saw an unexpected revenue boost, which brought the predicted education shortfall from $400 million down to $250 million, according to Governor Matt Mead.

 

Mead said coal is coming back — along with oil and gas — but he cautioned the state is still running short on funds. He added that means the legislature will have some hard work to do during the 2018 Budget Session, as they consider further budget reductions or alternate revenue through new taxes.

 

Aaron Schrank

A funding crisis brought on by a downturn in the coal industry has left policy makers struggling to figure out how to fund education. This year school districts took a hit of $34 million to their operating budgets.

 

That’s primarily money for teachers and staff, as well as materials and supplies. But the funding for school construction and maintenance is also running out.

 

While the legislature and the school system continue to work on the state’s $400 million deficit, Wyoming Public Radio’s education reporter, Tennessee Watson, sat down with Brian Farmer from the Wyoming School Boards Association. Farmer says local school boards offer a critical perspective on spending and educational outcomes, because it’s a conversation they are constantly having on the local level.

University of Wyoming

K-12 education in Wyoming is facing immediate cuts on the state level and President Trump’s federal budget proposes cuts to education too. There’s even talk in Washington of dismantling the U.S. Department of Education. This got me wondering how University of Wyoming education students were feeling about their future in teaching. 

The question prompted a nice spring stroll across the University of Wyoming’s campus. Our studios are just across Prexy’s Pasture from the College of Education.

Office of Governor Matt Mead

Now that the Wyoming Legislature has passed House Bill 236, school districts are standing by to see if Governor Matt Mead will sign onto the $34 million in cuts to education funding for the upcoming school year. The House and Senate reached a compromise on the bill Friday in the final hours of the 2017 Legislative Session.

If Mead signs it, the hard work of figuring out what and who to cut will begin immediately for district school boards, administrators and business managers.

Wyoming Education Association

The Wyoming Senate Education Committee voted to remove a tax measure from a comprehensive education bill and added some more cuts.

The bill is the House solution to a projected $400 million shortfall in education funding. It originally imposed a half percent sales tax after the legislature’s reserve account dropped below $500 million.

State of Wyoming Legislature

An omnibus education bill passed the Wyoming House Tuesday and moved to the Senate for review.

The bill is the House of Representatives' answer to the $400 million education budget deficit. The bill proposes freezing transportation and special education funding for the 2018-2019 fiscal year to generate some savings.

Remaining gaps in funding would be covered by legislative reserves. And should the state’s rainy day account dip below $500 million, the state sales tax and the state use tax would increase a half penny.

pixabay

An Omnibus Education Bill received initial approval by the Wyoming House of Representatives Friday, but not before a heated tax debate. The House rejected a proposed 2-percent tax increase that was part of the bill and instead approved a half penny tax that kicks in when the rainy day fund falls below $500 million dollars.

Encampment Representative Jerry Paxton supported the larger of the two tax increases and said the state needs to act now to produce more revenue.

The Wyoming Legislature

The Senate Education Committee is continuing to work on Senate File 165 that proposes a number of reductions to school funding. The measure is one of several being considered as the legislature looks to make up a $400 million shortfall in K-12 funding.

Among the bill’s proposals, it would freeze special education funding and offer early retirement to teachers within five years of retiring. The committee has heard over five and half hours of public input.

Tennessee Watson

The House Education Committee discussed their proposed omnibus education bill to a packed auditorium at Cheyenne East High School Monday evening.

A steady line of school administrators, teachers, school board members and parents made comments on the proposed budget cuts.

Many people raised concerns about the bill’s overreach. Rather than having the legislature determine how cuts should be made, multiple superintendents said they would prefer a percent cut across the board, giving control to districts and local school boards to decide how to tighten budgets.

On the list of recommendations to reduce Wyoming’s education budget deficit is a cap on special education funding. That means moving forward, districts that need to spend more than their allocated budget will need to cover those additional costs on their own.

The House Education Committee has given approval to a bill that would set up a group of legislators and citizens to find solutions for solving the public education shortfall.

Speaker of the House Steve Harshman says the legislation is a fall back in case other reform measures are defeated. He says the goal is to come up with a thoughtful solution.

To do a reasonable, comprehensive solution that I think where most people in Wyoming where you sit down and have a cup of coffee with in Wyoming would say, that sounds reasonable to me.”

Photo Courtesy of University of Wyoming

Wyoming is facing big questions about how to sustain the current education funding model, and that may cause uncertainty for educators entering the workforce. Almost half of Wyoming teachers graduate from the University of Wyoming, and a new partnership with the Daniels Fund will shed light on how well the College of Education prepares those teachers. Wyoming Public Radio’s Tennessee Watson spoke with Rebecca Watts, the executive director of The Trustees Education Initiative, about what this partnership means for learning in Wyoming.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead says the state’s biggest future budget concern is K-12 education funding. During a news conference discussing his current budget request, the governor said school funding could face a shortfall of over $600 million in the next budget cycle.  

To address the issue the governor is once again pushing to create a task force that would focus on school funding issues. He said the task force needs to include parents and educators.              

The Wyoming Legislature's Joint Education committee is drafting two pieces of legislation that could significantly reduce the amount of money that school districts get through the school funding model.  

One would raise the class sizes in the funding model, which would lead to the reduction of millions of dollars that currently flow to school districts. Sweetwater County School District two is based in Green River. 

Credit: AARON SCHRANK/WPR

The Legislature’s Joint Education Committee met on Tuesday to discuss ways Wyoming can save money on K-12 education amid revenue decline.

Last year, lawmakers went through the school finance recalibration process, which happens every five years. They decided to continue funding education at the same levels they had been, instead of adopting a less costly model that would provide what consultants say are the basics needed to improve educational outcomes in Wyoming.

K-12 leaders from 28 different school districts are urging lawmakers to roll back recent cuts to education funding—and to follow Wyoming’s statutory school funding model.

They’ll meet with the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee this week and ask those lawmakers to sponsor legislation restoring $36 million dollars in cuts to school funding over the next two years.

But Committee Chairman Senator Hank Coe says that’s unlikely.

“We’ll be lucky if we’re able to fund K-12 at the levels we're funding it right now,” Coe says.

  

A group of Wyoming school districts is requesting to meet with lawmakers this summer to resolve concerns about funding.

In March, the Legislature passed a budget cutting $36 million in K-12 funding over the next two years. That’s a cut of more than one percent.

The decrease was taken out of an adjustment for inflation known as the ‘external cost adjustment.’

Campbell County Superintendent Boyd Brown is one of 28 superintendents who signed a letter asking to be allowed to make their case before the Joint Education Interim Committee.

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