Wyoming Legislature update: K-12 School funding
by Albert Sommers, House District #20
August 13, 2015
August 12, 2015:
Hello Sublette County, on August 6 and 7, I attended the fourth meeting of the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration. As I have mentioned before, the Wyoming Supreme Court and state statutes require that the K12 funding model be recalibrated every five years to ensure that the children of Wyoming are being provided an equal and quality education. In order to accomplish this task, the legislature hires an out-of-state consultant to examine our funding model, and this funding model was actually created by the consultants we currently hire. The consultants review each component of the funding model, and then provide a report to our committee on the funding adequacy of each element.
This meeting focused on the number of teachers necessary to provide an adequate education. There are several components which determine how many teachers a school is funded for, and these include class size, core teachers, elective teachers, vocational teachers, small school adjustments, alternative schools, and at risk students. Staffing is the number one driver of costs for K12 education, and teachers comprise the largest group of employees for a school. Class size is the single greatest determinant of how many teachers a school is funded for.
Wyoming currently mandates smaller class sizes than our consultant recommended. The consultant believes our small class sizes were a misinterpretation of a previous consultant’s funding model. Wyoming’s small class sizes are probably the envy of the nation, since educators have told us how important small class sizes are. At a recent Council for States Government western region meeting, Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig of Sacramento State reviewed a study which correlated the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test to results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessment. Dr. Heilig found that Wyoming was the highest ranked state among the 13 western states for both science and math. He further found that Wyoming was exceeded in this comparative study of other nationally by Finland in science, and was the sixth highest performing state in the nation in science. Wyoming has one of the highest per pupil education costs in the nation, but it seems to be paying off. Future class sizes will be one of the most important recommendations our committee will make.
The consultant believes vocational/career technical education has transformed over the years, with less emphasis on traditional vocational classes like welding. This transformation is toward more STEM and health care-related coursework with class sizes consistent with core subject class size. I believe that while these newer courses are very important, Wyoming’s economy is still dependent upon job skills related to more traditional vocational courses like welding and auto mechanics. Due to safety concerns these courses need smaller class sizes.
The consultant’s model has changed in two areas since its last iteration in 2010, and this is in regard to at-risk children and health care for children. The consultant believes the model needs to generate more instructional facilitators to improve teacher instruction and more tutors and summer school/after school opportunities for at-risk students. There was also a recognition by the consultants that today’s students come to class with more physical and mental health issues than their predecessors, and consequently the funding model needs to provide more nurses and counselors for schools.
For a decade, the Legislature has been appropriating more money for the K12 funding model than the consultants have suggested, and I hope we continue to provide a level of funding that supports the student success highlighted in Dr. Heilig’s presentation.