Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Cindy Glasson
Reporter Photographer 

Wyoming State Legislature considering SJ9

 


The Wyoming State Legislature will be considering a bill, SJ9, which could greatly impact the educational system throughout the state.

In a nutshell, SJ9 removes education as a priority, allowing the legislature to determine what enough spending is for school districts. If it passes, it will go before the public for a final vote.

The Wyoming Constitution set education as first priority at its inception.

Representative Nathan Winters said he has not really looked into the bill as yet, but seeing that about half of the senators sponsored the bill, something very rare, he is looking forward to hearing the debate on the floor.

Winters said educational funding has slipped out of the legislature over the past 15-20 years into the hands of the judicial branch, something he believes was the result of the Campbell County decision, which started in 1993 and the Washakie Decision in the 1980’s.

In the Campbell County decision, the District Court, First Judicial District, Laramie County, declared three components of the school finance system--the municipal divisor feature, the recapture feature, and the optional mills feature--unconstitutional.

Before 1980, local taxes generated a substantial portion of the funding to the state's elementary and secondary public schools. Over the years, the development of in-place mineral wealth created disparity in those local resources so great as to engender a challenge to the school finance system.

In the Washakie decision public education was declared a fundamental right under the state constitution and held the then-existing school finance system unconstitutional because it failed to afford equal protection, in violation of the Wyoming Constitution.

“Basically, what this has done is create a ‘super legislature’,” he said. “There are five individuals now making all those educational funding decisions.”

Winters said a recalibration of how funding is handled is on the horizon.

“We have to take a smart, moderate approach to school funding,” he said. “There are those that are not in favor of a moderate approach and I’m not for that.”

The last time there was such a dip in educational funding was in the 90’s, and Winters said that happened over a number of years.

“We didn’t expect to lose so much in a matter of a couple of years,” he said. “We need to let the people vote on the funding decision.”

 

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