SHERIDAN — Some local residents remain at odds with legislators over legislation that could change the way the state determines funding for Wyoming public education.
Saturday, protesters gathered in downtown Sheridan near Grinnell Plaza to protest matters regarding education.
Some voiced their disapproval of national policy makers, such as newly-appointed U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and others voiced their concerns for education at a local level.
Real Resistance Wyoming, a Sheridan-based group aiming to address issues surrounding education, public lands and other topics, organized the demonstration.
Josh Hanson, one of the organizers of the group and a teacher at Ft. Mackenzie High School, said while the group protested several matters concerning education Saturday, the group has reservations on one bill in particular — Senate Joint Resolution 0009.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Sens. Dave Kinskey, Hank Coe and Curt Meier, of Sheridan, Cody and LaGrange, respectively, seeks to allow the Legislature to define adequate funding for education.
A portion of the amendment states: “No court shall require the imposition of any tax nor require any other provision of funding beyond those prescribed by law.”
The idea for the bill, Kinskey said, originated from several court cases spanning from 1980 to 2008. In those cases, the court determined that education is “a fundamental right” and should be equitable for all students in the state and that Wyoming students should be entitled to the best education possible. The best education possible is typically defined via outside consultants.
Kinskey’s primary concern with the current funding model revolves around the possibility of the Legislature being forced by the courts to either raise taxes or cut spending, which Kinskey said puts the Legislature in a bind.
“We are kind of in a box,” Kinskey said. “If you don’t give unlimited funding to schools based on out-of-state consultants, you are going to get sued and the Supreme Court is going to order you to slash every other budget or raise taxes.
“The school boards, the Legislature, the Board of Education should be able to determine what’s an appropriate amount of taxation for Wyoming,” he added.
Kinskey said that it should be up to the people to decide how that process should work, and noted that the bill would save the state millions in litigation dollars.
Hanson said his group’s fundamental concern with the bill is centered around the separation of powers, which he believes the bill violates. Hanson called it a “blatant attempt from the Legislature to wreak havoc on education.”
“SJ9 basically says the Supreme Court and the entire judicial branch no longer has a say in how we fund education,” Hanson argued. “There have been multiple cases where it said that we have to abide by our own state constitution and fund education … they are trying to do an end run around the courts.”
Hanson said that the Real Resistance Wyoming group has grown substantially over the past several months and noted that the group plans to continue protests in Sheridan in the future.
If SJ0009 passes, it will be placed on the ballot for the November 2018 election.