SHERIDAN — Despite nearing the end of this year’s legislative budget session, little headway has been made regarding Wyoming K-12 public education funding. The Senate education committee voted Monday to make amendments — including more funding cuts — to the main House education proposal.
The House proposed about $30 million in cuts over the next three years and wanted to divert revenues from some of the state’s savings accounts. The Senate voted to amend the proposal on the grounds that it was unconstitutional because the bill covered more than the topic included in its title. The Senate appropriations committee is currently reviewing the amended proposal and will likely bring it to the full Senate for a vote in the next day or two.
The House effectively killed the Senate’s education funding proposal last Friday, which proposed cuts of at least $108 million over the next three years.
The proposals lay out different ways to deal with Wyoming’s approximately $660 million education deficit for the next two years and total deficit of about $850 million.
Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, a member of the House education committee, said he was disappointed with the Senate’s proposed changes but understands the differences of opinion on how to handle the education funding issue.
The Senate “take(s) a tougher approach wanting to cut education more and not rely on the diversions and revenue changes,” Kinner said. “So it’s a little bit policy and a little bit philosophical, the differences.”
The House education committee met Monday night and discussed several Senate proposals. One of them was a Senate Joint Resolution bill that would change the Wyoming Constitution and make it possible for legislators to determine how to fund education without worrying about lawsuits from school districts. The committee didn’t vote on the proposal, effectively killing it.
The heavily-amended House proposal is the only remaining bill regarding K-12 education funding.
“I’m just guessing now, but I think what’s happening is that no one wants to make a move with the budget without really knowing what’s going to happen to that (education) bill,” Kinner said.
If a conference committee — composed of five members of both the House and Senate — cannot come up with a resolution to fund education, it will be included as part of the general budget. Monday, Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, a member of the conference committee, proposed using the House’s funding model in the first year and the Senate model in the second year. The suggestion is still on the table but may not be heard this week.
The conference committee was scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon to make progress on a budget proposal, but the meeting was cancelled. The committee does not have another scheduled meeting, meaning the final legislative week could end without a budget proposal for Gov. Matt Mead. The committee needs to approve a final budget draft by Monday to send to Mead in time for the Legislature to have the ability to override any potential vetoes by Mead.
“Unless the Governor is willing to get the budget back to us in less than three days, it appears to me that we’ll be here next week,” Kinner said.
That seems likely, but almost everything budget-related — including the seemingly intractable issue of educating funding — is in limbo at the moment.
“At this point, I just really can’t even begin to predict what’s going to happen,” Kinner said.