CHEYENNE – Another of state lawmakers’ attempts to make cuts to K-12 education finance has failed.
The House Education Committee on Friday killed Senate File 117 on a 7-1 vote, with Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle, excused. Rep. Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull, was the only vote in favor of the bill.
SF 117 would have made cuts to education in a variety of ways, but two key changes were an increase in class sizes and a change in the way districts calculate student attendance for funding.
Class sizes for grades four through 12 would have increased incrementally over the coming four years until the fourth and fifth grades each had 18 students per teacher and the sixth through 12th grades each had 24 students per teacher.
If the bill had passed, the average daily membership would have been calculated based on the previous school year only. Currently, districts use the previous school year or the average of the past three school years, whichever is greater. That means districts that experienced a decrease in enrollment would have felt the effects of that decrease immediately, rather than having a possible cushion of three years.
A nearly identical bill, House Bill 30, failed Feb. 22 when the House of Representatives failed to introduce it by the deadline. HB 30 would have made similar changes.
Attendees at the committee’s meeting spoke most strongly against the changes to the way districts calculate attendance for funding. That is known as the average daily membership of a district.
Brian Farmer, executive director of the Wyoming School Boards Association, said if the average daily membership calculation changed to match the bill, it could have an immediate, detrimental effect on districts.
As an example, he said if a district lost a couple hundred students in one year, that district would immediately lose the funding from those students.
“They would have to enact their (reduction in force) policies, wouldn’t be able to go through attrition and would have to make that immediate elimination at the time that they’re experiencing that change in enrollment,” Farmer said. “So, it’s a dramatic change.”
Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, asked if the district truly needed the extra teachers if it lost students.
Kathy Vetter, president of the Wyoming Education Association, said those teachers don’t all fall in the same area.
“Those decreases in enrollments don’t happen in one grade. They are spread throughout the grades,” she said. “So that immediate cutoff really hurts because kids don’t leave in a grade.”
Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, told the committee he believed the cuts made by SF 117 were responsible cuts and referenced escalators built into the funding model. Those escalators annually raise the amount of education funding based on inflation and other factors.
“We probably should have found a way to take those escalators out because, bottom line, we don’t escalate our state employees, (and) we don’t escalate the private sector,” Bebout said.
Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, told the committee that despite cuts made to education over the past couple of years, the escalators built into the model still will increase. If SF 117 were enacted, the education block grant model still would be about $91 million more by 2022 than it was in 2016, he said.
Farmer addressed the escalators issue to the committee. He said one of the escalators is the annual health insurance costs.
“That would be a same annual escalator that would apply to state government,” he said.
Another escalator is the cost of special education reimbursement. He said that applies only if section five of SF 117 didn’t take effect. That section required the state Department of Education to look for efficiencies within the special education system.
Farmer said the two escalators are either speculative, as with special education, or only part of the story, as with the health insurance.
Although both SF 117 and HB 30 are dead, some bills that could make cuts to K-12 funding still exist.
House Bill 140 passed the House and has received approval from the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Senate Education Committee will consider the bill Monday. That bill contains a variety of cuts, as well as revenue transfers intended to cover education funding deficits.
House Bill 122 would change the special education teacher label for workers’ compensation. That bill passed the House and received approval from the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee.