SHERIDAN — At the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee meeting in Cheyenne this Thursday and Friday, legislators will consider changes to several components of funding for primary through post-secondary education with the hopes of better supporting students while also finding efficiencies.
The committee will consider two bills containing adjustments to the Hathaway Scholarship. The first allows undergraduate scholarship students who earn a 3.75 GPA for two consecutive semesters to petition for an increase in scholarship amount. The second bill states that the annual award for need-based graduate scholarships “shall not exceed the sum of tuition and mandatory fees for the graduate program for the applicable year less two thousand dollars.”
Sheridan County School District 1 Superintendent Peter Kilbride said he is interested to see how legislators deal with increased costs as students begin deferring needs-based aid to cover more expensive graduate programs.
“If you were on the needs-based qualification, you would pay a percentage of your tuition,” Kilbride said. “Well, if you’re in pharmacy or law school, that number grows really, really quickly. So it’s good that they’re looking at that, for sure.”
The bill for recalibration of the K-12 funding model would create a select committee on school finance recalibration, provide for a study, allow consultants, require a report and provide $80,000 for the effort. The purpose of recalibration is to determine whether the current block model, which allows districts to spend the allocated block however they wish for education, is providing students the required basket of goods as efficiently as possible.
“It’s designed to really look at whether or not we’re spending money in the right places,” Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan said.
Recalibration had been every five years until the most recent effort in 2010.
“The last time we did recalibration we didn’t do much with it,” Kinner said.
Kinner said he would prefer the committee reevaluate numerous benchmark requirements for continued relevance before undertaking recalibration.
“I think with the addition of things like computer science getting added to the basket it’s an appropriate time to do the recalibration,” Kilbride said.
The bill concerning compulsory attendance would leave it up to the discretion of the school districts’ boards of trustees to determine the number of absences that constitute “habitual truancy” and “willful absence.” It would also increase the penalty for parents, guardians or custodians from a fine ranging from $5 to $25 to a range of $50 to $150. A staff comment in the bill includes the recommendation of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations that the legislature define the absenteeism terms.
A measure on transportation allows for school districts to transport students through other districts with the permission of the district. Kilbride said it was a bit of a new interpretation of the law that could have many unintended consequences if districts begin competing and exchanging students.
Another bill would consider courses taught online to students from a teacher in their district who also teaches the same course in-person for purposes of determining whether a student is receiving full- or part-time virtual education.
The committee will also consider a number of data collections for elimination.
Wyoming Department of Education Chief Policy Officer Kari Eakins said the data collections were proposed during public comment at a previous meeting in Cody. The materials that Eakins will present at the meeting include the WYDOE’s responses to the proposed cuts. Kilbride said the forms seem to have a real duplication of requested information, so it would be helpful to streamline the process.