The Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration met on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Picus Odden and Associates, the company contracted by the state of Wyoming to conduct the 2005, 2015, and 2020 recalibration studies, presented their findings to the committee. These findings make up what is known as the ‘evidence-based model’ for recalibration, meaning that Picus Odden and Associates used evidence-based research of best practices to determine what constitutes an adequate and equitable education in the state of Wyoming.
While the model for education funding in the state of Wyoming may seem confusing and convoluted, having a fundamental knowledge of the components of this model and how they interact are vital when addressing education funding. Doctors Picus and Odden presented findings on components of the model, such as class size, staffing, dollars per student resources, central functions, and resources for struggling students.
Several notable takeaways were presented by Picus and Odden, including an increase in class size standards and the recognition that Wyoming is currently understaffed for instructional facilitators, core tutors, substitute teachers, core counselors, and nurses, library aides, maintenance workers, and clerical staff. While the presentation was a simple run-through of their findings, these findings do not yet have an attached dollar value. The committee is scheduled to meet again in late October when the model that was presented by Picus Odden and Associates will be costed out, meaning a determination will be made to see whether or not the state of Wyoming is properly funding education.
While the presentation itself was fairly simple and far more informational than policy-oriented, the discussion amongst those on the committee and those in attendance from the Joint Education Committee gave some distinct insight into some of the potential policy issues that the legislature will no doubt try to address. One of the most substantial complaints from members of the committee was that “districts do not fund themselves as the model instructs, so why should we adhere to an evidence-based model in the first place?” The idea behind the block grant and court rulings in the Campbell cases is based on the principle of equity. At the broader level, those districts that do not have the tax base to fund their education to an equitable level draw on funds that are redistributed from wealthier districts that have a surplus in their tax base. At a smaller level, districts face distinct, contextual issues that may not be present in other districts. The idea behind the block grant is that districts are allocated a certain amount of funds based on the model. If there is a contextual issue that requires additional funding, districts have local control to determine how those dollars are spent and where they are spent. Not only are these the principles of the block grant and the Campbell case findings, but they are in line with Wyoming’s value of local control.
Other arguments focused on the prevalence of “ghost teachers” and health insurance. While classroom size depends on ADM and the number of teachers follows suit, districts have at times chosen to increase class size and hire fewer teachers while those positions are still funded to cover health insurance. The funds that would have been utilized to pay for those educators who were not hired are redirected to increase salaries of educators and paraprofessionals in an attempt to attract and retain qualified, committed education employees. Currently, the model has noted an average annual salary of only $38,000. This is clearly not enough to compete with surrounding states and districts recognize this problem. The reallocation of block grant funds from health insurance for teachers who weren’t hired to bolster the salaries of educators is of vital importance to our educational system.
Finally, the argument that has been heard for years was raised regarding ‘bang for our buck.’ It should be recognized that across the nation, education takes a substantial portion of states’ budgets. Wyoming is not alone in this regard. Wyoming has to pay more to attract qualified education employees because of the rural nature of our state. Incentives that are prevalent in larger cities like entertainment districts, diversity of cuisine, arts, and music and shopping centers are not present in Wyoming. In many rural areas, an increased concern is a lack of access to health care or health care providers. Without these features in cities across Wyoming, monetary incentives are necessary to attract high-quality teachers. That being said, Wyoming’s NAEP scores have us as the “Best in the West,” again. The state of Wyoming is 5th in their overall NAEP scores providing a great retort to the question of “bang for our buck.”
The Wyoming Education Association will continue to monitor the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration and keep our members updated. For access to the Picus Odden and Associates presentation as well as other meeting materials presented during the committee meeting, visit: www.wyoleg.gov/Calendar/20200901/Meeting