Every five years Wyoming hires a group of consultants to review the school funding model, a process called recalibration. This year it will happen against the economically uncertain backdrop of COVID-19.
In two days of meetings at the end of June, consultants from Picus, Odden and Associates presented their plan for recalibration and the justification for it.
“What we know about education, how children learn and what we learn about how children learn, all those things change over time,” said Larry Picus, one of the co-founders of the consultant group.
Recalibration is based on a Wyoming Supreme Court decision that says the state must provide an equal education for students, no matter if they live in Jeffrey City or Cheyenne. It makes recommendations for spending through a model, which takes revenue from wealthier districts and redistributes it to poorer ones.
Picus told the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration in June that recalibration was a smart way to amend the “basket of goods,” the wonky term that describes the education experiences and tools provided to students. For instance, the 2020 recalibration will incorporate computer sciences into the basket of goods in recognition of the growing need for technological aptitude.
“That becomes an important part of making sure that the model and the funding model stays consistent with current education practices,” Picus told the committee.
Picus’ company uses what it calls an evidence-based model, which determines the methods and tools teachers need to provide the required level of education. Then it outlines how much that will cost the state for the next five years.
The consultants have overseen recalibration since 2005, but this year they face the added pressure of the coronavirus outbreak. Wyoming is consistently near the top in per-pupil spending, which often results in above-average student outcomes.
After Picus and his colleagues provide their report at the end of the year, legislators will have to choose how closely to follow them, given the bleak economic outlook, something Teton County School District No. 1 Superintendent Gillian Chapman is well aware of.
“The impact of COVID on recalibration is sort of like the elephant in the room,” she said. “You know, we just really don’t know how it’s going to impact what lawmakers’ thinking might be.”
The recalibration committee meets three more times this year, with a final meeting in December, when Picus and his colleagues will present their complete findings and those of other consultants looking at special education and other specific issues. The next meeting is Sept. 8 and 9.