The Legislature would determine what constitutes adequate funding for public education in Wyoming under a proposed constitutional amendment filed Wednesday, stripping authority to make those determinations from the state Supreme Court.
The bill, designated Senate Joint Resolution 9, would allow state lawmakers to determine when new taxes are needed to adequately pay for public education here. It would mandate that no court could “require the imposition of any tax nor require any other provision of funding,” beyond those already prescribed by law.
The bill is sponsored by Republican Sen. Dave Kinskey and co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Hank Coe and Curt Meier.
The proposed amendment is a significant step by the Legislature to avoid future litigation as it addresses a funding crisis in Wyoming public education. The state Supreme Court, in a series of court decisions stretching into the early 21st century, determined that an adequate and equitable education is a fundamental constitutional right in Wyoming, on par with freedom of religion and the right to bear arms.
In those decisions, the court ruled that the old system of funding, which included school districts raising funds on a local level, was unconstitutional. The court mandated that a new model for funding statewide education be crafted that would deliver an equal “basket of goods” to students from Jackson to Cheyenne.
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But that funding model has come under intense scrutiny as money available to pay for schools nears a crisis point: By the end of the 2022 fiscal year, an education funding shortfall could hit $1.8 billion, the product of a two-year downturn in the state’s energy economy.
This bill is the latest in a slate of constitutional amendments proposed during this legislative session to address the situation and navigate its extensively litigated protections. Another proposed amendment would change how school construction is paid for here, as the traditional revenue stream — coal lease bonuses — runs dry.
A third amendment would require the courts to protect the equality of education by using a high standard known as strict scrutiny.
Like all constitutional amendments in Wyoming, SJ9 would have to receive the support of 20 senators and 40 representatives to land on the ballot next year.