Wyoming Senate Leaders Offer Honest View of Education Funding Challenges

(Cheyenne, Wyoming) Wyoming Senate leaders released the following statement on education funding in advance of Senate Education committee hearings next Tuesday to consider HB 236, the Wyoming House omnibus education funding bill.

The Wyoming State Legislature continues to make education a top priority, both in terms of policy and funding. Over the last two decades, the Wyoming legislature has invested over $22.3 billion in education, opened more than 24 new schools and renovated hundreds more.

The Wyoming House and Senate are working within the legislative process to reconcile the House and Senate budget bills and pass an education spending reform package that works for Wyoming.

Wyoming led the nation in K-12 education funding increases over the last ten years. As of the 2015-2016 school year, Wyoming had the highest per student spending in the Rocky Mountain region with $16,127 going toward educating each student, according to National Education Association Research.

Based on the NEA’s data, Wyoming spends nearly $6,000 more per student than the average for the Rocky Mountain region, which is $10,915 per student. By comparison, Utah spent only $7,905 per student last year, less than half what Wyoming spends per student each year.

As lawmakers continue to work towards a solution to address Wyoming’s education funding deficit, the structural drivers and implications of Wyoming’s shortfall are coming into clear focus.

“We cannot get by just skimming the surface. This session – right now – we need to begin to address Wyoming’s structural education funding deficit and make a meaningful course correction,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Hank Coe. “If we do not get serious and make the reductions necessary to push education funding toward a more sustainable level, we are shortchanging students, parents and teachers.”

“You cannot address a bullet wound with a band-aid,” said Senate President Eli Bebout. “To educate a student in Wyoming today costs nearly $6,000 more per student than it does anywhere else it the Rockies. Wyoming’s education spending is completely out of whack with the region and we can no longer afford to continue in this fashion. We need to get a handle on our spending now. It’s the responsible thing to do. This is the first step in a serious, comprehensive solution. Tax increases should only come after meaningful reductions have been made and broad public input has been considered.”

“Funding for K-12 education currently costs $1.5 billion per year, that is nearly equal to all other state government expenditures, excluding federal funds. Wyoming faces at least a $300 million annual education budget deficit looking every year into the near future,” said Senate Education committee member Affie Ellis. “My concern is that the 2.1 percent reduction in the proposed HB 236 does not address the problem to the extent needed. Meanwhile, it contemplates a sales tax increase without providing time to understand the impacts to Wyoming businesses and families. We need broader input from across Wyoming before instituting a sales tax increase.”

“It is time for Wyoming legislators to get real and be honest with Wyoming taxpayers about what needs to be done. The $91 million dollar amendment that the Senate included in its budget package, offered by Senator Charlie Scott, represents a 5.6 percent cut, and is a serious proposal that addresses nearly a third of the annual education deficit starting this calendar year,” said Senate President Eli Bebout. “We have to face this problem head on. If we continue to dance around Wyoming’s fiscal reality or put our heads in the sand as we deplete our savings, we are opening Wyoming up to a very difficult problem.”

“Whether these cuts are phased in over time or become effective all in the coming school year is a debate we should have now, but there is no question that reductions near this level are needed to achieve a sustainable funding model,” concluded Senate Majority Floor Leader Drew Perkins.

2 Comments on "Wyoming Senate Leaders Offer Honest View of Education Funding Challenges"

  1. Concern over what a sales tax increase will do to Wyoming families but no concern over what your same knee jerk reaction cuts to education spending will do to the same people. If the Senates version is the one that goes through it will cost this state over a 1000 teaching jobs. Those same jobs buy local, put there kids in schools here and pay taxes. I understand some cuts need made but this is Chicken Little the sky is falling! Let’s not forget as voters the same people screaming for cuts so severe are the ones that put us in this situation to begin with. Do some research people!

  2. Just A. Cowboy | February 19, 2017 at 1:34 am | Reply

    These senate leaders have have long opposed education funding. Utah is already leading the nation in teachers leaving the profession after one year. Many Utah teachers work two or three jobs to make enough to survive. So we want to emulate their spending? Divide students per square mile and you get one of the big reasons education will always cost more in Wyoming compared to adjacent states or others. These same honest leaders don’t tout that the state’s students now rank seventh for performance in the nation. The energy sector is recovering so the downturn in funding will not be as severe as projected, obviously it remains to be seen if it will be as good as it was. If these longtime opponents don’t get to cut education funding this year they may not have as good of reason in future years. The priority for them is to keep funding various reserve accounts ahead of the constitutional mandate to provide for education. The education funding model was just recalibrated last year and they can’t even find a way to support it. Honest is not appropriate in this article’s title.

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