States don't have to accept federal money for public schools, but what if Wyoming didn't?
Lawmakers want to find out.
Legislation that would investigate the effects of not accepting federal funding for programs in kindergarten through 12th grade has been proposed by Reps. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, and Matt Teeters, R-Lingle, and Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody. House Bill 132 tasks the state attorney general and superintendent of public instruction with presenting a plan in time for the Legislature's 2012 budget session.
Federal funds represent about 6 percent of the state's K-12 education budget. About $110 million flowed to Wyoming schools in 2009 for programs that serve poor, disabled and at-risk student populations through the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The law funds special programs and requires all students be tested in third through eighth grades and once in high school.
The money comes with guidelines, regulations and reporting requirements, which some educators and lawmakers said burden local school districts. Also, Wyoming is flush with funds. Harshman said the discussion whether to refuse funds has been happening since 2002.
"If that's something we truly want to do as a state, we need to learn what it entails," Harshman said. "There's a lot of talk -- let's at least have some facts."
Harshman isn't sure he'd like to see money collected from Wyoming taxpayers for the programs go to other states. Many regulations and provisions are tied into the programs, Harshman said, and they need to be studied before taking action.
The idea to reject funding rumbled throughout last year's legislative committee hearings and the election of a new state superintendent. Cindy Hill was skeptical of federal funding during her campaign and said she was discussing refusal of federal money during an interview with Big Horn Radio Network on Jan. 6.
"If we need anything for our kids, we just ask our legislators," Hill said in the interview. "They are like-minded. They want the best for our kids. They will fully fund anything that we know that we need for our kids, truly need. Why would we go to the feds? We're a state that doesn't need to."
She said programs would not necessarily be cut but could be funded with state funds. Hill did not return several phone calls from the Star-Tribune last week about HB 132 and other education issues the state is facing.
Wyoming might have the money to fully fund schools now but could need that money in the future if the economy changes, said Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Center for Education Policy in Washington, which has done extensive studies on NCLB.
Refusing federal programs opens the door to myriad lawsuits for equality in education, Jennings said. If the state cuts programs such as Indian education or English Language Learners, courts might intervene.
Jennings anticipates bipartisanship in crafting changes to the federal education law expected in the next few years but said the formulas won't likely change.
Without participation in federal programs, the state and individual school districts might be ineligible for discretionary grant programs. Five Wyoming school districts received $8.6 million in 2010 to improve the state's lowest performing schools. That money flowed through the federal Title I program.
The federal government also contributes to technology and food service budgets. Wyoming lawmakers ended state support for the food service program last year.
"They may be reacting to [No Child Left Behind] but may want to take a look at what might happen if they refuse federal aid and what might happen to the kids," Jennings said.
Reach education reporter Jackie Borchardt at (307) 266-0593 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her education blog at trib.com/reportcard and follow her on Twitter @JMBorchardt