From Rep. Albert Sommers, House District No. 20

Hello Sublette County, this is Albert

Sommers reporting to you from interim

work of the Wyoming Legislature. On Sept.

8 and 9, the Select Committee on School

Finance/Recalibration met to continue discussion

of K12 school finance. I am cochairman

of this committee. Based upon

the most optimistic revenue forecast from

the May Consensus Revenue Estimating

Group Report, K12 education has a revenue

shortfall of $450 million in the 2021/22

biennium and the shortfall is projected to

almost double at $855 million in the 2023-

24 biennium. This is the challenge that the

Select Committee on School Finance faces.

The recommendations we make to the full

Legislature could affect all of the citizens

of Wyoming, through either cuts to education,

education jobs or new taxes.

The shortfall in education funding is

from three distinct areas: funding to school

districts for the general operations of educating

kids, funding for capital construction

and major maintenance and funding

for a portion of the Wyoming Department

of Education’s budget. By far the biggest

expenditure of school foundation dollars

is through the general operations of K12

education, and consequently that is where

the largest shortfall lies. The biggest categorical

expense in the general operations

of K12 education is teacher pay, followed

by reimbursements like the costs of special

education and transportation.

The graph here shows the breakdown of

the cost of the K12 education “guarantee”

per year, over the last 14 years. The Non-

Teacher category includes school level

administrators and staff. Non-personnel

would be such expenditures as supplies,

activities and utilities. Examples of District

Personnel would be superintendents, business

managers and their clerical staff.

Five Wyoming Supreme Court decisions

have largely dictated how Wyoming funds

education, ending with the Campbell IV

decision in 2008. The Supreme Court decisions

required the Legislature to recalibrate

the K12 funding model every five years to

ensure that the model remains cost-based

and provides an adequate and equitable

education to every child in Wyoming.

In order to determine what constitutes

an adequate and equitable education, the

Legislature hires school finance consultants

to provide Wyoming with a K12 funding

model. On Sept. 8 and 9, the Select Com-

Legislative Update – Sept. 18

From Rep. Albert Sommers, House District No. 20

mittee received a report from our school

finance consultants that detailed the personnel

needed to provide an adequate, equitable

education in Wyoming. The 2020

version of the Picus and Odden Evidence

Based Funding Model generates 12,947

personnel statewide, which were four fewer

positions than their 2015 version when

based upon the same number and type of

students. We are still waiting for the report

that costs out salaries for Wyoming

teachers and administrators. Based upon

the report received on Sept. 8 and 9, I assume

that the consultants’ cost of education

will be very similar to their model in

2015. Picus and Odden state in their written

report, “And by extension, our team of researchers

have searched for the most costeffective

options to provide the elements of

the basket of goods and services.”

Recalibration is a process to determine

the cost of an adequate, equitable education

for every child in Wyoming. However,

it appears that the consultants are

unable to provide us a model that costs

much less than our current funding model,

which means Wyoming still has an enormous

shortfall to fund education. If we

cut education funding substantially below

the consultant’s recommendation, we risk

not holding up our constitutional requirements

as mandated by the Supreme Court,

which could result in a lawsuit brought

by school districts or parents. The Select

Committee on School Finance will likely

examine a combination of cuts, taxes and

the state’s savings to solve this enormous

fiscal challenge. We will know more in

October, when we hear from our consultants

on salary levels. I can be reached at

[email protected] with questions

or concerns.

I would like to take this opportunity

to thank all of the employees and school

board members of School Districts No. 1

and No. 9 for their tireless work to educate

Sublette County’s children, especially

under the very difficult circumstances created

by this pandemic.

Sublette County folks, when you get a

chance thank a teacher.