Having attended legislative committee meetings, educator trainings and community events these past several weeks, I felt it was time to update you on school funding and another topic I have been working on since being elected:
School funding: Pick up a Wyoming newspaper these days and chances are good that you will read about the dire education funding crisis. We face a cumulative shortfall of over $1.5 billion in our school operations account and roughly $500 million in our school construction account through the year 2022. The legislature is charged with solving this funding conundrum, but both the executive and judicial branches have, and will continue to weigh in on the topic. In January, I recommended to the legislature a list of efficiencies, savings and reductions that could be immediately realized. The legislature concurred with most and codified the recommendations during the 2017 session. Their work during the session was very challenging and continues to be to this day – I am thankful for their willingness to serve Wyoming in these tough times.
What is most important in all of this? It’s pretty simple, really – we stay focused on Wyoming’s future. Without a strong public education system, our students will not be the skilled workforce and civic leaders our state needs. All metrics point to growth for Wyoming’s students. From school quality to test scores to graduation rates, we are making measurable progress and leading in many areas. But we have room to grow. And when we look to the future and what our students need to succeed in a 21st century world, at the core of that discussion is something known as the “basket of goods.” (W.S. § 21-9-101). In this basket are the knowledge items-reading, social studies, math, etc. and the skills-problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, etc. that the legislature has identified as being critical for each Wyoming high school graduate to possess. It was from this basket, created in the late 90’s, that our school funding model was built.
The legislative recalibration committee must answer a fundamental question right now – do they leave the basket of goods alone and work from the existing school funding model or do they develop a new basket of goods of skills and knowledge? Boiled down, keeping our current basket of goods means taxes are probable. Redefining the basket of goods may prevent new taxes but may minimize what we consider an adequate education for Wyoming students. Either scenario presents profound challenges and potential litigation. The basket of goods deserves a careful look with two goals in mind: 1) Guarantee an adequate and equitable education for all students and, 2) Realize cost efficiencies and savings. Tackling the school funding albatross without carefully examining the basket of goods is an exercise in futility.