Funding

Tennessee Watson

Every superintendent will tell you the goal is to keep cuts far away from the classroom and to hang on to as many teachers as possible. During the last legislative session, Wyoming educators asked the legislature to use reserves to cover the deficit, but instead, they stuck them with a $34 million funding reduction. Meanwhile, contracts to teachers are due April 15th, so district school boards are in the midst of figuring out what else in their budgets can go.

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People packed the Senate Education Committee meeting Wednesday to discuss House Bill 236 that will attempt to address the state’s education funding shortfall. The bill differs from the Senate approach to the problem in that it proposes some funding reductions, but holds off deep and immediate cuts to education by using legislative savings.

Should those savings dip to $500 million, a half percent sales and use tax would go into affect to generate more revenue. Representatives of the energy industry say that tax would hurt their industries.

Tennessee Watson

School business managers asked the legislature to remove a six percent interest on funds borrowed temporarily from the common school account. They also asked that schools be allowed to repay those funds in June instead of December. 

The bill narrowly passed the committee of the whole.

Proponents of the bill argued that penalizing schools doesn’t make sense when cash flow issues are caused by payment schedules decided by the state. The bill sailed through the House, but is now being met with scrutiny in the Senate.

Bob Beck

A downturn in the energy economy has caused a crisis in Wyoming education funding. K-12 funding is projected to see a $400 million shortfall at the end of the current two-year budget cycle.

That deficit will grow if lawmakers can’t find a way to address the shortfall, but the House and Senate are taking different approaches towards solving the problem. During an interview Senate Education Chairman Hank Coe of Cody repeated a sentence that’s become a cliché this session.

Wyoming Department of Education

School districts that temporarily borrow funds from the state may no longer face high interest rates. A bill to remove a 6 percent interest rate on money borrowed from the state’s Common School Fund passed the Wyoming House and is now before the Senate.  

Photo Courtesy of University of Wyoming

Wyoming is facing big questions about how to sustain the current education funding model, and that may cause uncertainty for educators entering the workforce. Almost half of Wyoming teachers graduate from the University of Wyoming, and a new partnership with the Daniels Fund will shed light on how well the College of Education prepares those teachers. Wyoming Public Radio’s Tennessee Watson spoke with Rebecca Watts, the executive director of The Trustees Education Initiative, about what this partnership means for learning in Wyoming.

In late December the Joint Education Committee released potential solutions to the K-12 education funding deficit. In the week-long public comment period that followed, the legislature received close to 600 comments.

The Wyoming School District Coalition for an External Cost Adjustment came out in support of comprehensive approach taken by the Subcommittee on Education Deficit Reduction Options, but expressed concern that the process was happening too fast. 

Wyoming Department of Education

Wyoming has seen its first drop in student enrollment in more than a decade according to data collected by the state Department of Education. Districts lose money when enrollment declines. The good news is that enrollment funding is based on a three year rolling average.

Department of Education Communications Director, Kari Eakins, said that gives school districts a little bit more time to make wise cuts.

The Wyoming Legislature's Joint Education Committee released a document outlining possible solutions to Wyoming’s education funding crisis and has asked for immediate public input.

The Subcommittee on Education Deficit Reduction Options was tasked with offering strategies to address the current funding model, while maintaining the quality of public education.

Teton County Education Foundation

While educators across the state are facing budget cuts, teachers and staff in the Teton County School District have something to look forward to in the New Year. The Teton County Education Foundation granted approximately $23,000 in support of 68 teacher-driven projects in public schools beginning in January.

Susan Eriksen-Meier is the executive director at the Teton County Education Foundation.  She said applications to the Classroom Grants Program doubled this year.

Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

The current oil and gas boom, fueled by a technique called hydraulic fracturing, has opened massive shale gas and oil formations in states like Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

But unlike past booms, this time drilling is bumping right up against communities. With oil and gas development now at their doorsteps, people are worried about the health impacts.

But the industry has taken off so quickly that scientific research about those impacts - which is timely, costly, and complex - is playing catch up.

As part of the UW request to the Wyoming legislature, WPM requested $2.5 million in the 2014 legislative session for critical infrastructure upgrades and replacements. WPM operates sites throughout the state.  Many of them are operating on equipment far past its useful time.  The most critical sites serve Laramie/Cheyenne and Rock Springs. 

“Wyoming Public Radio” is a state treasure.  Every Wyomingite should be able to access on ratio the public programming it provides, as well as critical emergency broadcasts,” says Christina Kuzmych, WPM General Manager.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation may be one of the state agencies that benefits from the better than expected earnings Wyoming brought in this fiscal year. The state’s general fund is about $333 million over what the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, or CREG, predicted.

  Governor Matt Mead says he’s gone through WYDOT’s budget once, but may review it again.

The School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming is funded in large part with money from the energy industry. Other universities have gotten heat lately for not being open enough with their funding sources. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov reports that some stakeholders are concerned about too much influence from energy at UW, but SER promises transparency. 

Irina Zhorov

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Five years ago the state embarked on an innovative preventive medicine approach called Healthy Frontiers.  It offered a version of health insurance to low income people who cannot afford it.  The idea was to try and keep people off of Medicaid and out of the emergency room.  But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports the legislature stripped money from the program essentially killing it.

A new Wyoming School Finance bill has been approved by the Legislature's Joint Education Committee, but it has its critics. 

The biggest concern is over a portion of the bill that is called the regional cost adjustment, which applies to salaries districts get and takes into consideration where a district is located. 

The committee has decided to shift to a new funding mechanism called the hedonic wage index, that will reduce what the state pays for salaries by about seven million dollars.