Misunderstanding mandates on education
Re: State budget
For the second time this past month I have seen quoted in the press that Wyoming has “its constitutional mandate to prioritize education funding above all else.” Unless the constitution has been amended recently that just isn’t true.
In the Campbell II court case between 2000 and 2002, the judges of the Wyoming Supreme Court interpreted the constitution and added a civics lesson. They wrote that the Legislature’s paramount priority was to support the opportunity for education. And they added “competing priorities not of constitutional magnitude are secondary, and the Legislature may not yield to them until constitution sufficient provision is made for elementary and secondary education.”
Not everything else is secondary. The competing priorities of constitutional magnitude are not secondary.
Some examples of those other constitutional priorities that the Legislature is required to support are “to protect and promote health and morality of the people.” That is, health care, Medicaid for lower income children, their parents and disabled. Public nurses, training and attracting doctors, public health oversite and county government, city government, public lands, labor, courts, public employees retirement funds…
This is what the constitution says: “The Legislature shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a complete and uniform system of public instruction, embracing free elementary schools of every kind and grade, a university … as the public good may require and the means of the state allow….”
The word “priority” does not appear in the constitution.
Legislators spend thousands of hours listening to all the competitive demands of governing. They have to divide state resources in many ways that help people and allow our institutions to operate.
The Legislature and citizens of Wyoming have a long history of recognizing the importance of education and funding it as generously as resources and other priorities would allow.
Education is equal in priority with other items of constitutional magnitude. The Campbell II language says education is a paramount priority to those things the state is spending money on that are “not of constitutional magnitude.” In times of financial constraint, those are the first programs and agencies that need to be cut back, even if we are biased toward them.
Jack Landon Jr.