When many of us hear details about a $400 million deficit, mill levy increases and the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, our eyes start to glaze over.
But what if your child’s teacher loses her job? Or if the school activities your grandchild loves are no longer offered? What if you have to pay more property taxes?
These scenarios are more tangible than the jargon we often hear about K-12 funding. Unfortunately, some of those scenarios could become a reality in Wyoming.
After prosperous years brought billions of dollars into the state, energy markets dropped drastically, leaving Wyoming with huge budget deficits. While our state is unfortunately all too familiar with a boom-or-bust cycle, this bust hit especially hard.
Park County School District No. 1 and other K-12 schools were spared from significant budget cuts initially, but the money is running out and things are about to change. In recent weeks, legislators have discussed numerous options to slash school funding.
That’s where you come in. As a Wyoming citizen, a parent or a grandparent, what do you think the state should do? Do you believe Wyoming schools should be funded at the same levels as in the past? If so, are you willing to pay more in taxes toward local kids’ education? If it’s time to trim back education, what are you willing to give up?
It’s important for the community to have these types of conversations — at dinner tables, coffee shops, break rooms, letters to the editor or even on Facebook.
Gov. Matt Mead believes there needs to be a public process “in order to come to a consensus about what is our value on education in Wyoming (and) how we want to fund this,” said Mary Kay Hill, policy director for Mead, on Friday.
For many decades, the Powell community has valued education. Our school district is known for its excellence, and we believe it’s worth continuing to invest in the public education system.
But here’s the reality: Wyoming cannot fund K-12 education like it has in the past. The money — roughly $400 million annually — just isn’t there.
To be clear, that estimate is the shortfall for funding day-to-day school operations in Wyoming; it does not include money for building new schools or maintaining buildings.
As lawmakers have said, the state cannot cut its way out of this budget crisis; $400 million represents more than a quarter of the state’s education budget — imagine losing one out of every four school employees. While some cuts must be made, Wyoming also needs to look at new revenue streams for K-12 funding.
In coming weeks, lawmakers will decide how to address this crisis, and those decisions will directly affect you. It may mean more money out of your bank account in taxes; it could lead to changes in your child’s classroom and school.
Share your thoughts with local legislators as they consider how to move forward. Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, and Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, co-chair the Legislature’s Education Committee. Get in touch with them and other lawmakers.
A lot of opinions, history and jargon surround K-12 funding decisions, but local voices must be part of finding the best solutions.