Education Doesn’t Take a Back Seat in Lean TimesWritten by Drew Perkins, Tim Stubson, and Hans Hunt
There are very few issues – if any – that nearly all lawmakers in the Wyoming State Legislature can agree on. The one exception would likely be that we all want Wyoming students to have the very best education possible.
This means providing world-class primary education, well-rounded curriculum, engaging classes, safe environments conducive to learning and the opportunity for vocational and technical training. No matter the economic climate, these shared goals remain a top priority for legislators in Cheyenne.
Education is perhaps the single greatest investment our state can make. Giving the next generation of Wyoming leaders the resources and tools they need to compete in a global economy will pay dividends for our state in the not-too-distant future. This requires not only an investment of dollars but an investment of our time and talents in prioritizing education.
And invest we have. Over the last two decades, since the Wyoming Supreme Court definitively put the responsibility for K-12 education operations and capital construction in the states’ hands, the Wyoming legislature has invested over $22.3 billion in education. Wyoming school districts will have received over $19 billion for K-12 operations, and $3.3 billion has been appropriated for the maintenance and construction of school district facilities.
We’ve supported the University of Wyoming and community colleges, grown scholarship funds, prioritized early childhood education and expanded vocational and technical training opportunities. We’ve opened more than 24 new schools and renovated hundreds more, making great progress on the large backlog of school facility projects across the state.
We’ve also worked to protect education for the future by creating the School Foundation Reserve Account to shield school funding from losses of mineral revenue.
As a result, Wyoming has consistently ranked as one of the top investors on education funding per student. In recent years, Wyoming has spent approximately $15,700 per student, making us the seventh best state in the nation in terms of education spending.
What’s more, Wyoming recently ranked eighth in the nation in Education Week’s 20th annual report card on education quality. The 2016 rankings are based on three key factors – the Chance-for-Success Index, K-12 Achievement Index and school finances.
When state coffers have been flush, the legislature spent funds judiciously and strategically on education and school facilities. We made this a top priority and rightfully so.
Facing revenue shortfalls that will likely continue for several years, the state legislature has had to slow increases in expenditures and, in some cases, trim funding across the board. The state legislature has never been a borrowing operation. We live within our means, just as Wyoming families have to do every single day.
However, education remains a top priority for lawmakers, and its stability remains paramount. While we simply cannot afford to support every single request, we’re continuing to fund our school facilities, community colleges, the University of Wyoming and many critical educational programs at levels we can sustain for the long-term.
Our commitment to education goes beyond dollars. There are several bills still under consideration in the House and Senate that would help improve and expand our state’s education system.
House Bill 80, Community College Recalibration, aims to provide a stable source of funding for Wyoming’s community colleges based on realistic enrollment levels. Wyoming’s community colleges enroll 62 percent of the state’s college enrollment – the highest level of two-year college participation in the nation. Ensuring our community colleges have a steady source of funding they can rely on is critical.
With the goal of providing diverse educational and training opportunities for Wyoming youth, Senate File 11 would extend the Wyoming National Guard Youth Challenge program through 2025.
While our funding opportunities are not what they have been in the past few years, one thing has not changed – the Wyoming State Legislature’s commitment to arming our young people with the education and experience they need to be successful. A strong educational foundation opens doors for our citizens, adds value to our local economies and enriches our communities.