CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Wyoming House of Representatives advanced legislation on Tuesday, March 23, that attempts to solve the state’s K-12 education funding deficit.
House Bill 173 would reduce spending by providing health benefits only to those enrolled. The current model requires the state to pay block funding based on a calculated number of educators and administrators, even though there are fewer employees than the model projects and about a quarter do not opt-in to benefits. The reduction, which would be phased in over three years, will reduce K-12 funding by more than $80.5 million cumulatively over the first three years.
The bill would also redirect revenue from existing sources, including severance taxes and investment income from state savings. This use of existing revenue streams will provide up to $70 million annually.
The American Rescue Plan (ARP), also known as the COVID-19 relief bill, which was approved by Congress this month, provides significant funding to the state. the bill would allocate up to $243 million of the ARP funding to K-12 education over the next three years, reducing the use of savings in the near term and providing time for the state’s new and historic revenue drivers to close the gap. Wyoming Senators Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso and Representative Liz Cheney all voted against the legislation.
The bill also includes a half-penny sales tax that would be directed solely to our schools, which would be triggered only if the rainy day fund is drawn down to a $650 million balance. The sales tax, which was amended down from a full percent, provides an “insurance policy” that the state will be able to appropriately fund education in the event that the rainy day fund approaches its statutory minimum balance of $500 million, at which time it would no longer be able to backfill revenue shortfalls.
“The potential sales tax increase is a necessary measure to ensure that if our revenues do not improve, we will still be able to provide a high-quality education to our young people. It applies only if income from existing revenue streams does not improve enough to close the gap,” said House Revenue Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Harshman. “Wyoming has the third-lowest sales tax in the country. No one wants to raise those unnecessarily. This option would only be implemented if necessary to provide one of the most critical services, education. I think all Wyomingites generally agree that our kids and our schools are worth half a penny.”
The Wyoming Constitution requires the Legislature to fund an equitable education “adequate to the proper instruction of all youth in the state.” Declining energy production and prices, which have also caused property taxes to fall, have reduced state and school districts’ education revenues. Without legislative action, Wyoming’s schools will require an annual $331 million transfer from the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA), the state’s “rainy day” fund, to maintain operations.
House Bill 173 was passed by the Wyoming House of Representatives, 41-19. Thirty-eight amendments were proposed, including 23 in the third reading. It will now proceed to the Senate for consideration.
About The Author
Buckrail @ Lindsay
Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.
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