CHEYENNE – An ambitious effort to solve Wyoming’s school funding crisis would freeze spending on special education and transportation, while dipping heavily into savings and possibly raising the sales tax.
The House Education Committee voted Monday night to sponsor the omnibus bill. The measure is the broadest effort so far by the Wyoming Legislature to tackle the estimated $400 million annual school funding shortfall. It includes reducing administrators’ salaries while lowering the number of school operating days.
“What it did is it modifies the funding model we have now,” said Rep. David Northrup, a Powell Republican who is chairman of the House Education Committee.
If the bill becomes law, the state’s main legislative savings account, which currently holds around $1.6 billion, would transfer $100 million into the primary public school funding account June 30 of each fiscal year, provided the rainy-day fund has more than $500 million in it.
The bill proposes a 0.5 percent sales tax increase should the rainy-day fund dip below $500 million. Revenue from that tax increase would go to the school funding account. The increase will disappear if the 43 property tax mills – public school’s current funding stream – begin to provide 65 percent of the necessary funding.
It also calls for diverting a 1 percent severance tax for the 2019 through 2022 fiscal years into the general fund, and then into the primary school funding account. That 1 percent amounts to about $89.1 million annually, according to the report.
Schools’ days of operations would be cut from 185 to 180. Reducing the number of days would save an estimated $15 million annually, starting in fiscal year 2018.
Additionally, the bill calls for a freeze on special education and transportation funding at the amount spent in this school year. Freezing transportation spending, which includes a halt to bus purchases, would save $3.1 million in fiscal year 2019. A special education funding freeze will save an estimated $9.2 million in the next fiscal year.
Monday was the first day most members of the House Education Committee saw the bill. Rep. Garry Piiparinen was the only member of the committee who opposed the group sponsoring the bill.
“My concern is we didn’t have any input on this,” the Evanston Republican said.
Elsewhere, the bill calls for:
- A moratorium on alternative schools until at least 2019. The Joint Education Committee will study the schools and report back no later than November 2018.
- A 10 percent reduction to the base salaries of superintendents, assistant superintendents and business managers, starting in fiscal year 2018-19. This would save an estimated $3.4 million annually, according to Legislative Service Office projections.
- Continue the 1.4 percent reduction, equating to a $21 million statewide decrease, in the 2017-18 school year. A similar reduction hit districts in the past year.
- Partially reverting to the level of funding called for by consultants in 2015, to the tune of $22 million per year.
- Move funding for extended day and summer school into the block grant given to schools.
The bill would also create a joint select committee on education starting March 1, 2018. The committee would consist of 16 lawmakers, with legislators from the House and Senate education, revenue and appropriations committees. The committee will “review the educational program ... and complete a recalibration of the education resource block grant” to “determine if modifications are necessary in light of changing conditions and modifications to law,” according to the bill.
Focusing on savings, revenue diversions and revenues, the committee will also “study and recommend solutions” to the education shortfall.
In addition to the supercommittee, the bill calls for the governor to appoint three advisory groups consisting of teachers, lawmakers, parents, taxpayers and more. These groups would provide input to the supercommittee.