Education is underfunded in Wyoming, according to a new report from consultants contracted by the Select Committee on School Finance to take an in-depth look at the state’s educational program.
A downturn in the energy industry — a major source of state revenue — had policymakers looking to bring down the cost of public education. But the consultants with the Denver-based firm APA released a report saying education should actually be receiving over $50 million more annually. Lawmakers can now choose to ignore the recommendations or to find alternate revenue sources.
The additional revenue would go to several recommended areas, including an increase in teacher salaries. Kathy Vetter, president of the Wyoming Education Association, said salaries have not been increased to match inflation.
“Teaching salaries have fallen 13 percent compared to non-teaching salaries since 2012,” said Vetter.
“So I feel the recommendation isn’t necessarily to dictate how much districts pay teachers but to fund the model reflective of what it actually costs to attract and retain high-quality teachers.”
The current model distributes funding through a block grant with a certain amount apportioned for salaries, but districts can spend the money how they see fit. Vetter said that flexibility has allowed districts to offer teachers competitive salaries.
“School districts have been using funds from other areas of our current funding system in order to fund salaries, not just for teachers, but for salaries across the board.”
Vetter said school boards shouldn’t have to underfund other areas in order to hold onto good teachers.
Policymakers are in the process of reviewing the consultants’ recommendations and drafting legislation for the 2018 Budget Session.