Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Marcus Huff
Staff Writer 

Greear helps steer final education budget through the Senate

$34 million total cut from school spending

 

March 7, 2017



WORLAND – “It’s been reported in the press that we spent 15 minutes meeting on the education bill, but I personally spent around three hours on Friday, working with Senate leadership to get the final negotiations through to the floor, before there was even a vote” said Representative Mike Greear (R-Worland) Monday. Greear served as a member of the House Education Conference Committee to work with the Senate on the bill’s final form.

On Friday, the Wyoming House and Senate reached a compromise on HB236, the House’s omnibus education funding bill. The bill authorizes the appointment of a select committee to study education issues, recalibrate the model and makes an additional $34 million in reductions above the reductions approved in the current biennial budget.

With 65 percent of the funding for the daily operations of Wyoming schools coming from taxes paid by mineral producers, the state is currently facing the largest education funding deficit in Wyoming’s history – between $360 and $400 million per year.

“The reason we ultimately went with HB236 is because it implemented a bit more cuts, and offers the school districts more flexibility to decide where those cuts happen, at their level,” said Greear.

Described as a “road map” to fixing education, Greear thinks the final budget addresses a way leading forward for the state to re-evaluate the way education is funded. “We have time now,” noted Greear, “and enough funding to cover the 2017-18 school year.”

Greear also noted that the newly-established state committee will recalibrate and build a new funding model for continuing education, with the loss of mineral revenue across the state.

While the budget goes into effect in July, school districts will have until April to decide where to make cuts. Without a return to a mineral-based economy for funding, Greear sees no easy solution outside of increased tax revenue.

“The state will either have to divert [funds] from the general fund or look at raising either property taxes or implementing a sales tax,” noted Greear. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and sell more coal, but we’ve got until 2019 to figure it out.”

According to the Associated Press, the Senate opposed new and earmarked revenue in the state’s fiscal outlook. Emergency funding for education hasn’t run out and the state’s fiscal position could improve, they argued.

Senators meeting with representatives continued to oppose dedicating new revenue for education.

“I can just tell you we’re not going to budge,” Senator Hank Coe (R-Cody) told his House counterparts on the conference committee.

The committee instead compromised on funding cuts for instructional facilitators — education experts who coach teachers — to get roughly midway between the $32.5 million in cuts proposed by the House and $37.5 million sought by the Senate.

Other cuts would freeze development of alternative schools and prohibit school districts from buying or leasing new school buses. The state also would tinker with how it calculates student enrollment for funding purposes.

More work on education funding will be needed next winter, House Speaker Steve Harshman (R-Casper) said, when the Legislature meets for a four-week session to craft a two-year budget.

“Be ready,” he said. “These are going to be tough decisions. But that’s what we all signed up for.”

 
 

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