Governor Gordon’s budget proposal, which was released before the session, called for an increase in funding for education to the tune of $38 million over the next two years, this increase in funding is an external cost adjustment, often referred to as an ECA. However, throughout the legislative session, the external cost adjustment has been a focus for senators and representatives looking to make cuts during these difficult fiscal times.
The external cost adjustment is a vital component to education funding in the state of Wyoming and the product of the Wyoming Supreme Court decisions in the Campbell County cases.
In the Campbell decisions, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that education funding in the state must be cost-based, it must be adequate and equitable, and education funding must be a priority for the Wyoming State Legislature. For the funding model to be adequately cost-based, the model must account for inflation. This is essentially what the external cost adjustment does.
Without the external cost adjustment, we run the risk that inflation would overrun the funding model. As a result, the model would no longer adhere to the Supreme Court’s ruling that it must be cost-based, which would also mean that the education funding model would be out of compliance with the Wyoming Constitution, and the precedent established in the Campbell cases.
The external cost adjustment is a much-needed tool for school districts across the state of Wyoming, as it allows districts to provide students the resources they need to learn. From textbooks to new technology, Wyoming students deserve relevant, up-to-date learning materials, and the ECA helps to provide them. This inflation adjustment is critical to ensuring that, from our urban schools in Cheyenne to our one-room schoolhouses in rural areas across the state, students are enjoying ample, equal opportunity.
The ECA also affords Wyoming the ability to pay Wyoming teachers competitive wages. These competitive wages are essential to attracting and retaining the high-quality educators, administrators, and paraprofessionals to the state that have made our education system the ‘Best in the West’.
Historically, teacher wages in Wyoming have been higher than in the surrounding states. Recently, however, these wages have stagnated, and neighboring states are now matching—and in some cases surpassing—our teacher pay scales. Pay increases for educators in Wyoming have increased at the lowest percentage of any state in the nation.
Because of its rural nature, in order to attract and retain quality teachers, Wyoming has paid teachers at a higher rate than many other states across the nation. The model using the Hedonic Wage Index assesses the salaries necessary to recruit high-quality educators to a rural state.
While naturally beautiful and a source of pride for many Wyomingites, our rural state poses some unique problems in terms of recruiting educators. Entertainment districts, shopping opportunities, and other amenities that are associated with urban areas are in short supply in even some of Wyoming’s larger cities, let alone in our smallest, rural communities. A lack of healthcare providers also complicates recruiting efforts. Under the Hedonic Wage Index, it’s reasoned that teaching candidates weigh the amenities and services available, with the salary being offered, and elect to accept positions, accordingly.
Time and again, Wyoming voters have told our legislature that education is a top priority. Wyoming cannot afford to rob our students of the resources and opportunities necessary to create the best learning environment for our schoolchildren. Additionally, at a time when teacher shortages are impacting Wyoming, and the rest of the nation, we must continue to afford our state every recruiting advantage to recruit the best candidates to shape the minds that will guide Wyoming’s future. The ECA is essential to continued student success; it’s an area in which can afford neither cuts nor compromise.