A proposal to increase the recommended average class size in Wyoming schools is part of what lawmakers are reviewing in preparation for the 2018 Legislative Budget Session. Increasing class size has been discussed by policy makers as way to reduce costs.
The current school funding model recommends a student-teacher ratio of 16 to 1 for kindergarten through second grade. Class size recommendations increase for older grades, but don’t exceed a 23 to 1 ratio. The proposal before the state legislature would increase elementary class size up to an 18 to 1 average. The state-hired consultants who came up with the number say it more accurately reflects current practices.
Laramie Senator Chris Rothfuss said educators strive to keep classes small but struggle to meet those goals because of funding issues.
“To me the policy recommendation and the policy implication of the small class size is important. I don’t like the idea of us saying 18 to 1 is good enough because that’s what most schools do,” said Rothfuss. “In Albany County we struggle to reach the 16 to 1 . . . and we do a pretty good job of it.”
Rothfuss said one thing that makes meeting class size recommendations challenging is a lack of classroom space. The downturn in the energy industry has meant less revenue for education, including school facilities maintenance and construction.
“The school facilities are entirely funded by coal lease bonuses and federal mineral royalties and a tiny bit of state land,” said Rothfuss. “So our funding in school facilities has gone down very close to zero, where we need $150 million or so a year to have everything running smoothly, and we are closer to $20 million a year in revenue.”
In the short term, Rothfuss said state funds could be diverted to cover building costs. Instead of increasing class size recommendations to accommodate facilities shortfalls, Rothfuss wants policymakers to work towards diversifying revenue sources so that education is not so reliant on energy industry revenue.