The worst-case scenario has gotten worse for local schools.
Predictions now estimate that Teton County School District No. 1’s total foundation program funding will be cut by 10.79 percent, the highest percentage reduction of any district in the state. That amounts to a suggested $5,475,458 reduction.
Those numbers come from the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee, which released a breakdown of estimated district-by-district budget cuts ahead of a meeting set for Monday in Cheyenne.
The figures are early suggestions following Gov. Matt Mead’s announcement Nov. 30 that Wyoming’s public school system will face a budget shortfall of up to $700 million in the next two-year budget cycle and a report by the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Interim Committee projecting that the state’s education system will face a $1.8 billion deficit by fiscal year 2022.
The current level of education spending can’t be sustained due to tough economic times and a decline in the energy sector that has led to a reduction of tax revenue.
Mead has called the situation “a real crisis,” saying the state “can’t cut its way out of this” and will need to look for additional revenue sources, too. He hopes to form a task force to address the issue when the Legislature goes back into session in January.
Numbers keep changing, and it’s too early to say what legislators will vote to chop when they meet next month. Mead told Seth Klamann, a reporter at The Casper Star-Tribune, he doesn’t think the Legislature will make $700 million, or even $100 million, in cuts during the session that begins Jan. 10.
“But if we made 40 or 50 [million dollars in cuts], it’s a good start,” he said.
Superintendent Gillian Chapman called the previous worst-case scenario estimate of an 8 percent cut “something that would devastate our school district.” The most recent estimates show a layoff of 38 teachers in the district and 1,098 teachers across the state.
“I honestly don’t know where I would begin with that kind of number,” Chapman said.
She thinks cuts of that magnitude would “ruin our communities” and demonstrate that “education is no longer a priority” in Wyoming.
Providing quality education has been deemed one of the state's most important functions by the Wyoming Supreme Court. In the 1995 court case Campbell County v. the State of Wyoming the court ruled that a new funding model was needed.
The new model was put in place to ensure equal education was provided across county lines. After years of debating how to create a model that satisfied that ruling lawmakers decided on an evidence-based model that is refined every five years.
There’s also a legislative model that often helps augment the evidence-based model between five-year benchmarks.
State Sen. Hank Coe, chairman of the Joint Education Committee, described the evidence-based model as the tree and the legislative model as the ornaments — representing programs like summer school.
State Superintendent Jillian Balow has said the recalibration of the evidence-based model has usually resulted in more money for the schools and has been above what has been recommended.
“Essentially the evidence-based model is the Chevy,” she told the Casper Star-Tribune. Through the legislative model the state “has been able to provide the Cadillac” until recently.
Spending-cut bills on the table for the Legislature to consider in January include adjusting the funding models and increasing class sizes.
Coe estimated that reverting to just the evidence-based funding model could save the state $35 million and that increasing class sizes could save an additional $47 million.
Part of the drastic suggested reduction is due to a 30 percent recommended change to the regional cost of living adjustment for Teton County.
Currently, the regional cost adjustment for Teton County is 1.38 — meaning it’s 38 percent more expensive to live here than other areas of the state. Under the current legislative model of funding Teton County gets a $7,899,410 funding bump every year.
But under the evidence-based model for funding that’s been proposed, the regional cost adjustment drops to 1.08 — a loss of $6,134,628 to the school district.