A growing deficit in funding continues to loom over the K-12 education system in Wyoming. The legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee and Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration came together Monday to work together towards a solution. Most lawmakers say it will require a combination of cuts and revenue to resolve the deficit.
The School Finance Recalibration Committee reviewed an update of the funding shortfall numbers, which currently stand at slightly over $478 million for fiscal years 2017 and 2018. The committee also considered ways to change the school funding model, and received background information on how other states handle public education funding.
In the afternoon the Joint Revenue Committee explored additional sources of funding, from personal income taxes to a ski lift ticket tax. Specifically taxing wind energy to support education and reintroducing a grocery tax were also put on the table.
Together the committees discussed options like district consolidation to save on administrative costs. Senator Ray Peterson from Cowley, who chairs the Senate Revenue Committee, anticipates that by the 2018 Legislative Session there will be tax bills ready to present. “We might not be totally in favor of those bills as a committee,” Peterson said, “but we’ll have something in our back pocket to present to the legislature to chew on and let them decide.”
Peterson also thanked educators for making the effort to attend the meeting, but warned them to prepare for more cuts.
Senator Chris Rothfuss from Laramie said the committees need to know what Wyomingites want. “Would the public prefer to see cuts to education, or would they prefer to see additional taxation?” Rothfuss asked. “We have no direct means of measuring that. We have our sense from our conversations.”
Speaker of the House Steve Harshman reminded policy makers that cutting education funding and raising taxes aren’t the only options. The legislature passed House Bill 236 during their last session, which allows spending from the roughly $1.5 billion rainy day fund while a political compromise on how to fund education is reached, or until the reserve dips to $500 million.