Senate strips K-12 ed funding bill

By Kristine Galloway Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE - The state Senate on Wednesday cut apart a bill that would have found revenue for - and made cuts to - K-12 education funding.
Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, sponsored an amendment that stripped House Bill 140, which he said was needed to keep the bill constitutional. The Senate voted to support the amendment.
Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, sponsored the bill. Coe and Northrup are co-chairs of the Legislature's Joint Education Committee.
Coe explained, "We leave some things in there (and) we take out most of the bill in the standing committee amendment because they did some things in there that we felt specifically were unconstitutional under Article 3, Section 20."
He said that section of the Wyoming Constitution states that "no bill shall alter the original intent of the original subject of the bill."
Some examples from the bill that Coe said he and his fellow senators felt were unconstitutional were: diverting corporate fees to the School Foundation Program Account, diversions from federal mineral royalties and severance tax to transportation and other education funding areas, and funding the Strategic Investment Planning Account.
Coe said his amendment reverts HB 140 back to House Bill 30, a predecessor bill that never reached introduction in the House of Representatives. He explained that, rather than be introduced, representatives had folded the bill into HB 140.
"At the end of the day, House Bill 140 has about $7.6 million in funding reductions this year and about $20 million next year," Coe said. Those cuts would be spread across the 48 school districts.
Some cuts that remain in the stripped bill include cuts to groundskeeper funding and alterations to the calculations of average daily membership, which is the way in which districts calculate attendance for funding purposes.
Coe said Laramie County School District 1 will take the largest cuts to groundskeeper funding should the bill pass. "They've got - I don't know how they acquired it - some 280-acre farm that is part of the district, and if you look at how the formula kicks in, it funds a whole bunch of extra groundskeepers for them that they don't use or utilize."
The average daily membership would be funded up to two-thirds of the previous year and one-third the next year if enrollment in a district decreased, he said.
Coe said he supports HB 140 as it remains following his amendment. He originally proposed the amendment in the Senate Education Committee, and it passed 3-2 with support from Coe, Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, and Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette.
Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, voted against the bill in committee but supported the amendment during the floor session Wednesday. "I agree with the fact that there are substantial constitutional problems. This puts it back to being a constitutional piece of legislation, whether you like the bill or not," he said.
Kathy Vetter, president of the Wyoming Education Association, said, "We really need to find some revenue streams for education, and (HB 140) did look at doing some of that."
Any additional cuts to education, including the $7.6 million the bill would create this coming year, will affect students, she said.
"We've been taking cuts for the last several years - approximately $77 million in cuts. The school districts have cut so much that any more cuts are definitely going to affect the classroom," Vetter said.
She explained that about 85 percent of the money districts get from the Legislature pays salaries for teachers and staff members.
"Some of our really small districts barely have the staff to provide the basket of goods now. They're having to use online courses in order to meet all those requirements," she said. The "basket of goods" is the list of skills and content areas every district is required to offer students.
"You do more cuts, and it's going to be very difficult for students to receive an equitable education across the state of Wyoming," Vetter added.


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