A lawsuit over Wyoming's education funding is set to go to trial in June 2024. The outcome of the case could change the state's funding obligations for public education in the future.
The Wyoming Education Association sued the state in August claiming that it had violated its constitutional duty to adequately fund public education. The professional organization cited "increased class sizes, aging buildings and infrastructure," "insufficient school security measures" and educator shortages, among other things, as results of inadequate funding. It warned of worsening conditions.
Since then, eight Wyoming school districts have joined the lawsuit as intervenors. The court also reaffirmed the Wyoming Education Association's standing in the lawsuit but dismissed its claims for attorney's fees and punitive damages after the state filed a motion challenging the organization's standing in the case.
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Wyoming is obligated to “provide for the establishment and maintenance of a complete and uniform” public education system under the state constitution. Starting in 1980, a series of Wyoming Supreme Court cases challenging the constitutionality of Wyoming's education funding clarified what that means on a practical level.
The famous Campbell cases, the last one of which concluded in 2008, determined the intricacies of the funding model the state uses now. The WEA was also a plaintiff in this series of lawsuits.
Under the court’s decisions in the Campbell cases, the state had to undertake a cost of education study to make a new school finance system. That system has to ensure that funding differences between school districts are only cost-based, not wealth-based. The Supreme Court also ordered the state to adjust funding amounts for public education based on inflation and added expenses.
As a result of the Campbell cases, the state had to make a new school finance system that ensured funding differences between school districts are only based on cost, rather than wealth. The state also have to adjust funding amounts based on inflation and added expenses, known as external cost adjustments.
The WEA's complaint says that the Legislature hasn't adjusted funding to match consultants' recommendations and that those recommendations "seriously understated" the cost of education in the first place.
The Wyoming Legislature, which is responsible for appropriating funds for public education, earmarked about $1.8 billion in the 2022 budget session to pay for public education for the 2023-2024 budget cycle, though the use of those funds could be reduced depending on future local revenue. This year, it approved a roughly $70 million external cost adjustment for fiscal year 2024.
The school districts that have joined the lawsuit are Albany County, Campbell County, Carbon County No. 1, Laramie County No. 1, Lincoln County No. 1, Sweetwater County Nos. 1 and 2 and Uinta County. The trial is set to take place in Laramie County District Court over the period of five weeks starting June 3, 2024.