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Districts wary of proposed legislation

Posted: Tuesday, Feb 14th, 2017

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Big changes could be coming to school districts throughout the state of Wyoming in terms of funding and how schools are funded as the Wyoming Legislature tries to find a solution for the massive funding shortfall.

One gaining momentum would amend the Wyoming Constitution to put legislators in charge of education funding. Senate Joint Resolution 9 (SJ9) passed that house, 26-4-0, on Feb. 3 and is now with the House.

Mineral revenue, which largely funds education in Wyoming, isn’t rebounding from its decline, resulting in an education-funding shortfall of about $400 million in coming years.

Due to the shortfall, legislators are eyeing SJ9 as a way to determine what defines an adequate education for students across the state. It would also “prohibit courts from requiring funding beyond that prescribed by law,” so school districts could no longer challenge school-funding legislation.

According to Sublette County School District No. 1 (SCSD#1) Superintendent Jay Harnack, this is a big deal that could change education in Wyoming forever.

“It gives full authority to Legislature in determining what is adequate to students,” he said. “Wyoming education is listed in the Declaration of Rights, right above the right to bear arms. What do you think people would do if they stripped way the right to bear arms?”

Concerns with SJ9 resonate in a similar manner at the Sublette County School District No. 9 (SCSD#9) in Big Piney, where the district has already faced budget woes from reduced enrollment, along with other small cuts that add up over recent years.

“I don’t think (SJ9) is a good plan,” SCSD#9 Superintendent Steve Loyd said. “Legislature is meddling in things they shouldn’t meddle in,” he said. “I know we’re in a tough spot, but when you jump in and start changing the law and Constitution, it becomes a slippery slope.”

The Big Piney superintendent says a lot of work went into the legality of school funding in recent years and is unsure why legislators might put all that hard work to waste.

SCSD#1 Director of Business and Finance Vern McAdams said it all comes down to the state not having adequate funding to provide as they have in the past for education.

“Legislature is between a rock and a constitution,” he said.

For the complete article see the 02-14-2017 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-14-2017 paper.

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