CHEYENNE — Gov. Matt Mead's budget proposal includes the incorporation of $66 million worth of legislative moves on education funding.
Mead is recommending the state Legislature provide $1.76 billion to the Wyoming Department of Education’s school finance department for the 2019-20 biennium.
That’s $65.9 million less than the $1.83 billion the department received for the 2017-18 biennium.
A large portion of that would be allocated to the state’s 48 school districts through the education block grant model, but department officials have not yet calculated the amount.
Jed Cicarelli, supervisor of the Department of Education’s school foundation program, said they will determine those allocations in March or April.
Kari Eakins, communications director for the Department of Education, said part of the $65.9 million recommended decrease is due to state laws changed in Enrolled Act 125, which passed during the 2017 legislative session. She said in an email that the act reduced money for schools by $36 million, which amounts to 2.4 percent of K-12 funding.
The remainder is because of an increase in anticipated county revenue across the state, she said.
Eakins said the recommendations did not mean the governor nor the department were calling for cuts to education. They instead signaled Mead's incorporation of moves made by the Legislature in March. Indeed, his budget proposal may change, depending on what happens in the upcoming legislative session.
She explained that the school finance budget shows the Legislature how much money it needs to provide to schools based on state law.
“The (school finance) budget is letting the legislators know how much the state must provide to fulfill its constitutional obligation to fund schools,” she said.
The Department of Education’s finance department staff analyzes how much money each county can provide toward local education and compares that to how much is needed to pay for education equally for all students, as the state constitution requires.
Eakins explained that the Department of Education then tells the Legislature how much is needed to fill that gap between what counties can provide and what is needed.
The finance department staff uses revenue projections from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) to help make those determinations.
That group releases revenue forecasts in October and January each year, with updates in April and July.
Mead’s recommendation for the school finance budget is $4.7 million higher than the amount the Department of Education originally anticipated needing.
Eakins said that’s because the CREG forecast in October showed a small anticipated increase in county revenue.
“Local county revenue used to cover 60 percent of that amount, and the state would pay for roughly 40 percent of that amount. Now, local county revenue is covering less than 45 percent of that amount, so the state is on the hook for more,” she said.
Another CREG forecast is expected in January and could change all these numbers again.
Eakins added that the Legislature might change the state’s education funding laws, which might also affect the amount of required funding in the school finance budget.
She said in an email that, “The final amount of money going to schools will not be determined until the 2018 legislative session, when legislators take up the recommendations from the (Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration) and pass a budget bill.”
The school finance budget is separate from the Wyoming Department of Education’s budget, which Eakins said covers the department’s staff, state and federal education programs, and federal funds the department receives.
The governor is recommending about $275.6 million to fund the Wyoming Department of Education.
The department’s 2019-20 budget request includes an exception of about $4.4 million more than the department received for the 2017-18 biennium.
Trent Carroll, the Department of Education’s division director of finance and administration, said $3.7 million of that is in federal funds. The Legislature must authorize the Department of Education to disperse the money to districts.
Jillian Balow, state superintendent of public instruction, on Dec. 14 spoke about the department’s budget to members of the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee.
She said, “Our exception requests (in this budget) come as a result of discussion with the governor’s office about our concerns over cutting some of the programs out of existence.”
She explained that the additional money to the anti-bullying unit, Teacher of the Year program and National Board Certification program would be a restoration of funding that previously was cut.
“Those were choices that we made as a senior leadership team and a budget team in conjunction with the governor’s office based on the importance of those programs, both at the local level and at the state level,” Balow said.