Wyoming Legislature update
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
November 30, 2015
Sunday, November 29, 2015
Hello Sublette County, on November 16 and 17, I attended the final meeting of the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration for this recalibration period. This committee was charged with reviewing the K12 education funding model to determine if the model was still up to date, and still providing an equal and quality education to every child in the state pursuant to constitutional and Wyoming Supreme Court directives. We met during six different months, for a total of twelve days, and hired three consulting firms to complete this work. In the end we came full circle, and will recommend to the Legislature that we retain our current funding formula and funding level.
At our previous meeting, on October 1 and 2, we heard the final reports from our primary consultants Drs. Picus and Odden, our salary consultant Dr. Stoddard, and our Regional Cost Adjustment expert Dr. Lori Taylor. The final recommendations from our consultants would have reduced funding to K12 education by around 50 million dollars, from a $1.4 billion dollar budget. The Picus and Odden model would have increased class sizes, a recommendation the committee did not agree with.
In an attempt to find common ground among the committee members at our November 16 meeting, we agreed to take a hard look at the consultantsí model to see if we could amend their recommendation to suit our desires. We heard clearly from school districts around the state that the current funding formula was their preference. To Picus and Oddenís credit, they buckled down and worked with our staff to develop scenarios which would bridge the differences between the models. Our legal counsel from the Attorney Generalís Office cautioned the committee that we would be best served by utilizing the Picus and Oddenís model, and then add legislative grace, more money where the legislature felt appropriate, to create a committee recommendation. However during the meeting on November 17, it quickly became apparent that we could not reconcile the priorities the committee had with the consultantís model, and we voted to retain the current funding model.
After that decision, we still needed to determine what Regional Cost Adjustment (RCA) would be utilized to adjust the model to account for the various cost differences around the state. Cost of living varies between all communities in the state. Our consultants had developed updated RCA indices to choose from, and had recommended we utilize the Wyoming Comparative Wage Index (CWI). The CWI is designed to compare school salaries with jobs requiring similar levels of education and responsibility within the counties of Wyoming. This is an excellent way to compare salaries, if you have enough salary data to do the comparisons, and in Wyoming we do not. The committee did not like the lack of data in the CWI. We were not convinced the updates to the various RCA indices captured the cost of living differences in Wyoming, and we chose the exact same blend of RCA indices that the state currently utilizes.
The committee realized that the current funding model and RCA was the best fit for Wyoming and that districts were comfortable with and understood this model after utilizing it for 10 years. In the end, the committee took no action, after 12 days of meetings and thousands of dollars spent on consultant wages. The committee listened, learned, and continued the status quo. Keep in mind that this status quo has resulted in significantly higher NAEP scores for Wyoming students. At a summer meeting of the Council for States Governmentís western region, Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig of Sacramento State reviewed a study which correlated the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test to results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessment. Dr. Heilig found that Wyoming was the highest ranked state among the 13 western states for both science and math. It never hurts to listen and learn; you might hear something you like.