EDITORIAL: Comprehensive, long-term funding solution needed for Wyoming’s K-12 schools

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Now that the dust has settled from the Wyoming Legislature’s 2018 Budget Session, educators around the state can figure out what the cuts mean for their school districts.

Statewide, K-12 schools must trim $27 million from their budgets over the next two years. While those cuts aren’t as deep as they could have been — state senators had proposed slashing up to $76.2 million, according to WyoFile — we’re concerned about the process and how legislators came to this final decision.

Senators and representatives were so divided on education spending and state construction that they failed to adjourn on time, forcing them to meet additional days at a cost of thousands of dollars. Last week, lawmakers finally reached an agreement and concluded the session.

It’s frustrating that the future of education funding in Wyoming hinged on last-minute deals and late-night discussions.

In the hours leading up to the final vote last week, there were closed-door conversations and confusion. What we’re left with is another stop-gap measure to get by for another two years.

It’s time for state lawmakers to establish a consistent and sustainable funding plan for K-12 schools.

Gone are the days when Wyoming enjoyed incredible wealth from its mineral revenue. While the energy industries have started to improve, the state can no longer rely so heavily on its mineral wealth.

Wyoming’s boom-and-bust cycle has led to a never-ending rollercoaster ride for many K-12 schools.

While larger school districts may be able to hold steady amid the the erratic ups and downs, it’s much tougher for small schools.

“It’s going to literally destroy my small school,” Rep. Tim Salazar, R-Dubois, said of the recent round of cuts, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “We are hurting the most vulnerable, small schools. There is nothing left for them to cut — nothing.”

He pleaded with fellow lawmakers “to think about the very smallest, most vulnerable school districts.”

As lawmakers go into the interim committee work, we encourage them to focus on crafting a long-term solution to adequately fund all K-12 schools across the state.

In late 2016, legislators outlined five options to developing solutions to the education funding problem.

“Those areas are spending reductions, use of savings, diversions of current funding streams, spending policy changes and revenue enhancements. The white paper emphasized that not one, but all of the approaches should be considered in concert to fully and adequately solve Wyoming’s education funding shortfall,” Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, and Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, co-wrote in a column in January 2017.

The proposals identified in the white paper went by the wayside, but Powell school board members have advocated for the Legislature to revisit the paper’s five-part approach. We agree that the state must consider a comprehensive approach toward a long-term solution.

Gov. Matt Mead and other leaders have said Wyoming’s greatest asset is our children. It’s time to ensure those children receive a quality education all through their school years — and not leave such important decisions to last-minute legislative deals.

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