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Lawmakers to see initial recalibration bills this week

Oct 11, 2017 From staff reports

The Wyoming Legislature's Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration meets Thursday and Friday in Casper, taking further steps toward in a change in Wyoming's funding model for K-12 public education.

A second committee, the Joint Education Committee, already has asked state staff to draft three new bills that would make future cuts to education.

Enrollment funding

One bill is specifically targeted at reducing the amount of money districts are reimbursed for their enrollment, known in the model as "average daily membership." Many legislators currently believe the reimbursement rate is duplicative of students.

That bill also would allow districts to forego publishing public notices in newspapers and compel the Department of Education to change regulations for special education and transportation.

Health insurance

Another bill alter the funding model's health insurance component, requiring full participation and only requiring districts to repay the state for any funds that go unspent. In a memo to legislators, state school finance analyst Matthew Willmarth noted that the health insurance program's costs per capita have almost doubled in the last decade.

"The potential savings of requiring school districts to participate in the State's health insurance plan is unknown as the number of participants and the cost to implement the change in Employee Group Insurance is indeterminable at this time," he said.

"However, one could infer there could be substantial savings since the funding would only be provided for school district staff participating in the State's health insurance plan."

Constitutionality

When legislative staff returned their assessments of potential savings Sept. 15, they said that "one note of caution is in order."

"As previously discussed, the Legislature must fully fund a cost-based education system that provides every Wyoming public school student an equal opportunity to a quality education," the staff wrote.

"Reducing public K-12 education funding incrementally, including by implementing options contained in this memorandum outside of the recalibration process, may ultimately violate the state's constitution by creating an education funding system that is not cost-based.

To avoid this concern, options to reduce education system funding should be vetted through the recalibration process."

State staff also are exploring what savings they'd find if they quit providing funding twice for "district level routine operations and maintenance resources" to multiple schools that lay in the same building.

The total expected savings are currently $4.1 million each year, with Fremont County alone accounting for $1.3 million.

The state's consulting firm hired to handle recalibration -- Augenblick, Palaich and Associates -- has conducted surveys of more than 1,000 education stakeholders across the state.

Through those surveys, educators indicated they believe work-based training in the state is underemphasized.

Through the feedback, APA has concluded educators believe postsecondary gets over emphasized" in part because "Hathaway (has had) broader impacts than original intent."

"Workforce readiness needs have equal importance. Wyoming is a state where many can succeed without a college degree," the firm stated.

Over the past few months, the consulting firm has compiled an array research, including comparisons of Wyoming's school system to other states.

The firm has generated hundreds of pages of data for legislators to review at their meeting this week. A final recommendation on funding is set to be produced by January.

APA has already targeted special education and transportation as areas they're focusing on for efficiencies.

"The study team has identified several potential opportunities for improving efficiency for the transportation system including greater use of technology, right-sizing bus fleets, and through shared/collaborative purchasing and service provision," APA has stated.

The firm stated it's also found "wide variations in reimbursements per identified student across districts that are not easily explained by type of disability, concentration of special education students, or total special education population."

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2017-10-17