Wyoming Education Funding Might Have Hope, After All - Wyoming Magazine


Wyoming Education Funding Might Have Hope, After All


The Wyoming House passes two amendments Friday that will restore some of the proposed k-12 education funding cuts.

The Wyoming House passed two amendments late Friday that could restore part of the $45 million in proposed cuts for school districts over the next two years. The measures came after the Senate killed three similar motions, each of which would’ve allocated additional money to K-12 education.

The Joint Appropriations Committee recommended a reduction in education spending in January in light of declining energy revenues. The JAC measure called for a $15 million decrease in the first year of a two-year budget and a $30 million cut in the second year.

The cuts would come out of external cost adjustment dollars — 1 percent of these funds in 2017, and 2 percent in 2018 — which traditionally go toward teacher salaries and pay raises, textbooks and other areas.

While legislators acknowledged the hard work of the JAC and the need for belt-tightening, such significant hits to education drew considerable debate all week. School administrators told the Legislature the cuts could have significant effects, especially for districts already suffering from declining enrollment.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, introduced two amendments Friday afternoon. The first was designed to restore all funding, and the second would have covered the first year — about $23 million — while allowing the Legislature and school districts to reevaluate and potentially adjust the second year.

Several senators spoke before the amendments went to vote. Each emphasized the importance of school funding, but the majority also pointed out all areas of government were taking hits — putting off education cuts would only make the fall harder in the coming years.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, used an aviation analogy, saying the Legislature’s job was to help the Department of Education navigate the next four or five years of potentially rough budgetary skies. These amendments, he said, would only hinder such an effort and cause a crash-landing in the future.

Rothfuss, however, remained steadfast. He said legislators should not support cutting educational funding while earmarking funds for projects like the Capitol renovation project.

“Education should always be the top priority,” he said. “We might need to cut government and we may need to cut throughout, but it might not be time yet to cut our K-12 education recognizing all of the leaps and bounds we’ve been making over recent years.”

Sen. Jeff Wasserburger also voted in favor of the amendments, and he opposed the original funding cuts approved by JAC. The Gillette Republican said Rothfuss’s idea to divert 1 percent statutory mineral severance tax funds “made sense” considering the state’s bleak economic outlook.

“Right now, we are projecting in the biennium 2019-2020 a $600 million shortfall in K-12 funding per year. That’s $1.2 billion,” Wasserburger said. “The 1 percent statutory diversion would have gone a long way to helping school districts have solid funding.”

The Rothfuss amendments ultimately failed, 11-19 and 9-20. A third option, sponsored by Sen. Stan Cooper, R-Kemmerer, which would have returned about $19 million, did not pass by 14-16 vote.

The House proved more open to restoring funding. The first amendment calls for a return of approximately $13.5 million to schools and passed by 38-21 vote. The second measure, which passed nearly unanimously, restores almost all of the funding but decreases school districts’ transportation budgets by 14 percent.

These amendments tack onto the House budget bill, which passed late Friday evening. The bill will next move over to the Senate, which will consider the House bill in full, including amendments. If the Senate does not accept the House bill, the document will go to conference committee where House and Senate members will attempt to find common ground.

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