Senate Chambers

Senators work in the Wyoming Senate chambers on Jan. 11 at the Wyoming Legislature in Cheyenne. The Senate’s attempt at an education reform bill appeared dead Tuesday after the House failed to advance it.

Dan Cepeda, Star-Tribune

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming House on Monday morning killed the Senate’s attempt at solving a looming education funding crisis.

Senate File 165 died when the House didn’t vote on the measure by a key deadline.

The Senate’s bill had been heavily amended by the House Education Committee. House lawmakers shaved down the number of reductions and inserted a number of provisions to the bill, so much so that the lawmakers had to file an entirely new substitute bill.

Sen. Bill Landen, a Casper Republican and SF165’s sponsor, said he was disappointed but not too surprised that the bill was killed by the House. He noted that it was scheduled to be considered by the House Education Committee on the last possible day.

But he lamented the bill’s death.

“Having drafted 165, that was a long and tortured journey,” he said. “ ...There are days that you get pretty discouraged. It’s not very easy work sometimes.”

Landen said that negotiations between the House and the Senate over HB236 will be difficult but believed a solution will be reached.

The House and Senate have been divided over how to shore up the anticipated 25 percent yearly gap in the state’s $1.5 billion account for public school operations.

The House generally supports a small tax increase and lower level of cuts to K-12. Most senators, on the other hand, are resisting any tax increases and want a higher level of cuts. Each chamber altered the other’s education reform proposals.

But the state’s supplemental budget bill could ultimately decide how education is cut, since the reductions laid out in the spending bill received broad support by the full Legislature. The budget bill is on Gov. Matt Mead’s desk. Mead has through Thursday to review and veto the bill.

Kathy Vetter, the president of the Wyoming Education Association, said she was surprised the bill appears to be dead. She pointed out that the House could technically suspend its rules to bring up the vote again but said that doesn’t appear likely.

Brian Farmer, the executive director of the Wyoming School Boards Association, said he thought SF165 was always doomed.

“From a timing standpoint, it was behind. From a format standpoint, it was behind,” he said. “So you keep making all of these hurdles for all of (this bill) to succeed because it had so many challenges in front of it.”

The substitute for SF165 would have frozen transportation spending at next school year’s planned levels. Previously, the bill reverted spending to 2011-12 levels. The new version also would have removed two conditional percentage cuts that would go into effect in the coming years.

Most prominently, the amended bill could have instituted conditional taxes, including a grocery tax, to help fund education.

The move comes on the same day that the Senate advanced the House’s main attempt at addressing the school funding crisis. The bill, House Bill 236, was also heavily amended by the Senate. It’s now headed to a third of three votes.

Rep. David Northrup, a Powell Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee, said he is glad the House killed SF165. He thinks it is inferior to HB236, the bill that his committee is sponsoring.

If HB236 passes the Senate, the full House would have to review all the changes that were made in the Senate and decide whether to accept them. If they decline to concur, a negotiation would begin between the two chambers, Northrup said.

However, if HB236 suffers the same fate as SF165, then K-12 education funding cuts would follow provisions specified in the budget bill.

The budget bill would institute $25 million in cuts beginning July 1. Another $20 million in reductions would kick in July 1, 2018. Those numbers come after a compromise between the two chambers. At one point during the 2017 session, the Senate’s version of the budget bill required $91 million in cuts, although that cut was removed after school districts voiced opposition.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Star-Tribune reporter Seth Klamann covers local and statewide education issues.

Star-Tribune reporter Laura Hancock covers politics and the Wyoming Legislature.

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