The Wyoming State Legislature agreed to a two-year budget on March 16, but disagreed on two key topics: K-12 education spending and new state construction projects. The two houses were back in session for another week before reaching a deal.
In the end, the state chose to cut more than $20 million from public schools. Few other cuts were made to state programs. In fact, schools were the only department the Legislature voted to reduce funds for this year. This marks the third straight year education funding has been slashed with total amounts soaring past $77 million. Wyoming faces a deficit amid weak state revenue from coal, oil, and natural gas extraction.
The move to cut funding – supported heavily by the Senate and opposed largely by the House – was passed in opposition to a nine-month, $800,000 study that nine Wyoming lawmakers on the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration unanimously rejected. That proposal would have changed the state’s education funding model and would have placed at least $70 million more back into education.
The review — known as recalibration — was rejected unanimously in January. Two legislators said the proposal’s cost of living adjustment — known as the regional cost adjustment — would hurt too many districts. The cost of living adjustment was meant to provide equity between school districts. For example, it is more expensive to live and work in Jackson, a town of more than 10,500 people with an average house cost of $839,000 in the northwest corner of the state located near Yellowstone National Park, than it is to live in Pine Bluffs, a town of little more than 1,000 people with an average home cost of $190,000 in the southeast corner of the state near the Nebraska border. Jackson would receive more money to account for that difference.
The legislators concluded that the farther a district was located from Yellowstone National park the less money it would receive. For instance, Laramie County School District No. 1 – located in the opposite corner from Yellowstone – would lose more than $10 million.
While the recalibration model was rejected, it did show that education spending isn’t outrageous. In fact, the consultants proposed that about $22 million more should be spent on at-risk students. NCTE passed a resolution in 2009 that states that years of cuts have placed a growing number of fragile students at risk for leaving school and warns of the danger of continued cuts to education funding.
The primary component in the approved funding model is tightening how enrollment – the primary driver for a district’s funding – is calculated. Right now, students are counted on a school-by-school basis, which can create overlap as they move from one school to another. Under the deal, administrators will calculate those numbers at the district level. The recalibration model, had it been accepted, would have made this loss of funding less impactful, especially on smaller schools who can face a large chunk of lost money.
After two years of heavier cuts, officials have contended that small districts have no room left to absorb any more blows, so the cuts would be capped at 2.5 percent of the budget. This affects five of the smallest districts in the state. There are 330 schools in 60 school districts in Wyoming.
The approved bill will also cut money for groundskeepers, strip some unneeded funds for testing and cap the amount of money districts receive for special education in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years. The bill appropriates $2 million, effectively to help blunt any special education cuts, and it will spread the overall reductions out over the next two years.
The 2009 NCTE resolution states the impact of continued cuts to education funding. The organization urges its members to contact policy makers at the local, state, and national levels to oppose budget cuts that adversely impact students, especially those most at risk for dropping out of school and encourages at every opportunity for the inclusion of educators in decisions about budget cuts affecting students’ literacy.
NCTE understands how insufficient funding threatens the ability of schools to provide basic literacy skills for all students. Reading and writing skills can determine the extent to which a citizen can earn a living and participate in a democratic society. Budget cuts have resulted in larger class sizes, fewer materials, and fewer classroom teachers which can have disastrous effects on a civil society.