Finally, several other bills were enacted last night that will have significant impacts on education funding in the state. Senate File 138, the bill that lays out how the contentious Occidental land purchase will be made, and from which accounts that funding will be drawn, passed both houses and is on its way to the Governor's desk. Of debate was which accounts were to be drawn from to make this potential purchase. One of the accounts that was being negotiated was the School Foundation Program (SFP) account. The House initially resisted utilizing the Legilative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA) account, but, in the end the compromise included utilizing the LSRA account and ensuring that a significant amount of the money that could be made from the purchase and utilization of these lands would be directly deposited into the SFP.
Given that the details of how much the state would be paying, how they would make this land profitable for the state, and whether or not the deal even goes through remain to be seen, it is unclear as to an exact dollar amount that would go to the SFP.
The legislature also passed a bill that would establish a gaming commission. A gaming commission would ensure that revenues generated from legalized gambling would go through the same process as other revenues, and a portion of them would help to fund education.
The reality of Wyoming’s volatile economic situation has become glaringly obvious. The many discussions within the legislature about the looming fiscal cliff facing our state had many policy options proposed to solve the problem. Most of these discussions involved “trimming the fat” or reducing spending across agencies. The Wyoming Education Association does not agree with this approach.
Instead, WEA agrees with the voices of those senators and representatives, having advocated for increasing revenue streams through means of taxation and economic diversification. The state is constitutionally mandated to fund education and should not attempt to utilize recalibration as a means to cut education funding or programs. The demands, responsibilities, technical and task knowledge of our workforce today have only grown, not been reduced. Therefore, it is only reasonable that what schools teach these students to prepare them for a future in our global economy must evolve and grow, too, not be reduced.
The legislature must take a serious look at generating these revenue streams. As their rhetoric has included notions of “slowing growth” the reality is that this is an unreasonable approach to maintaining adequate education funding in Wyoming. We can and must look for efficiencies in our system, but we must also realize that due to the increase in enrollment, the increase in cost for health care provision and the increase in demands on our workforce and students signifies that we must embrace this growth, not ignore it, but instead generate new revenue streams to support it.
The WEA will continue our work in communities across Wyoming now that the session has come to a close. We look forward to working with our membership, policymakers and all community stakeholders to continue to support and protect quality education in the great state of Wyoming.