At this pivotal moment for both our state’s finances and education system, the Wyoming Legislature should go beyond just “recalibrating” the cost of our current education system and …
At this pivotal moment for both our state’s finances and education system, the Wyoming Legislature should go beyond just “recalibrating” the cost of our current education system and use this opportunity to modernize it.
During the recent Governor’s Business Forum, Wyoming youth expressed concerns that their education did not align with future workforce needs. The students stressed the necessity to be forward-thinking about what type of jobs will replace coal and natural gas and keep people in the state. We should listen.
We must prepare Wyoming youth for the jobs of tomorrow and the jobs available in our communities or we risk falling behind the rest of the nation. Prior to the passage of computer science legislation in 2018, the last time Wyoming updated the subject areas and skills required in our schools was the 1990s.
The Legislature should start by using our consultant’s expertise to re-imagine the “basket of goods” provided in Wyoming’s statutes. Under Wyoming law, the state Legislature defines what elements should be contained in a proper education. This includes both subject areas — like mathematics and science — and skills — like problem-solving and critical thinking — and are often referred to as the basket of goods.
The Supreme Court requires the Legislature to provide an education appropriate for the times, and its Campbell decisions, made in the mid-1990s, envisioned a basket of goods that is dynamic, not stagnant. The court did not and should not dictate the method the state must use to determine the cost of education. Instead, the court found that “the expenditure of state funds is the Legislature’s responsibility.”
Unfortunately, Wyoming’s definition of what subject areas and skills should be included in a student’s education is falling behind national best practices. Wyoming is currently the only state without policies in education that allow for competency-based education, as identified by the Aurora Institute, a national education research organization.
An encouraging example of legislative forward-thinking was the addition of computer science to the basket of goods through the passage of Senate File 29 in 2018. Unfortunately, almost two years since being passed, the computer science legislation is still working its way through the administrative process after significant changes by the State Board of Education. The business community heavily supported the passage of the computer science legislation and remains hopeful for its full implementation soon.
Taking its good work with computer science a step further, the Legislature should now review the entire basket, including how we measure success and update it to match modern needs and developments in education, as well as the needs of the business community and industry in Wyoming and then figure out costs. Modernization is the key to efficiency.
Once the elements contained in a proper education system are determined, opportunities exist for increased efficiency or cost savings in education funding. The Wyoming Supreme Court has held that, after the Legislature designs the education system that each student in Wyoming is entitled to have, it must then determine how to fund it. The Supreme Court also said that the Legislature must take the impacts of inflation and local cost differences into account when analyzing the amount of funding that should be allocated to education. However, the Supreme Court does not say that education costs must rise unchecked and unexamined.
Close to half of state expenditures go to education-related expenses. With Wyoming’s revenue picture changing, now is the time to examine education funding to try to find relevant and meaningful ways to transition our education system onto sound financial footing for the foreseeable future.
Despite some popular misperceptions, the Legislature is authorized to seek out more efficient ways of providing a proper education. Specifically, there are a few first steps the Legislature should take to try to identify more cost-effective ways to provide quality education.
The recalibration consultants, who are responsible for developing education finance recommendations, should depart from past practices and make our current recalibration exercise a two-step process: First, update, analyze and modernize the basket that is “fit for purpose” in 2020. Second, determine the costs of delivery of an updated and relevant basket instead of just costing our current basket from the 1990s and reporting to the Legislature it is going to cost more over the next five years. The same thing today is always going to cost more tomorrow. That is a simple business principle. It is time for a modern and relevant approach to how this legal requirement called “recalibration” is executed.
We have the chance as a state to write our own story for the future to ensure that we are positioned for success today and for our workforce of tomorrow (our students and the next generations). With state revenue forecasts declining, now is the time for the Legislature to make sure that our education system and spending aligns with our state’s needs for the future and invest in ourselves for Wyoming’s tomorrow.
(Cindy DeLancey is the president of the Wyoming Business Alliance. She is based in Cheyenne.)