Legislators discuss education funding with school board

State representatives John Freeman and Albert Sommers answer questions at an education funding workshop with LCSD#1 school board members on Tuesday, Jan. 23. (GAZETTE PHOTO / Theresa Davis)

State representatives John Freeman, Albert Sommers and Tom Crank met with the Lincoln County School District No. 1 school board and members of the public for an education funding workshop on Tuesday, Jan. 23, at the district office.

The purpose of the meeting was for the legislators to inform the school board, LCSD#1 superintendent Teresa Chaulk and any interested residents about the details of education funding issues that will be addressed in the upcoming state legislative session. The meeting attendees could also voice their questions and concerns to the legislators.

Rep. Sommers said he believes “education is the most important resource the state provides.”

At the upcoming session, state legislators will attempt to create a new funding model for Wyoming’s education system.

“A lot of legislators and members of the public don’t understand the budget bills,” Sommers said. “We want and need to show the public that we can help fund schools without raising taxes.”

The state is currently facing an education funding crisis that has suffered hits from Wyoming’s fluctuating economy in the past few years.

“It’s hard to say what will work in the next five or six years for education funding, because we can barely say what will work for these next two years,” Rep. Sommers said.

LCSD#1 Superintendent Teresa Chaulk stressed that while the funding issues are complex, the legislators should do what’s best for Wyoming’s students.

“Our goal is to provide our kids with the best education possible,” Chaulk said.

Sommers said it is important for the school board members and the public to be involved with what happens at the legislative sessions in Cheyenne.

“If you want to save education in Wyoming, the public and the school boards have to show up at the (legislative) session and make it known,” Sommers said.

Kemmerer parent Wendy Potts addressed the legislators regarding a proposed cap on special education funding. Potts is the parent of a special needs child and a child that qualifies for a gifted education program.

“I’m not the only parent in this situation,” Potts said. “I am against putting a cap on special education funding, because if we don’t provide these children with the help they need now, it will be disastrous for them later in life.”

Potts said she would try to make it to Cheyenne for the recalibration meeting next week to voice her opinion about this particular funding crisis.

“Your testimony is stronger than what I could ever say,” Sommers said. “Legislators need to hear that.”

“I will say the biggest danger to K–12 funding is potential changes to the constitution,” Sommers said. “It’s hard because legislators disagree about what the funding needs are for education.”

Chaulk said potential cuts to funding would be hard for school districts and legislators should take that into account when discussing new funding models.

“I don’t think we’re being greedy,” Chaulk said. “We have made cuts that have hurt us. We’re making academic gains, but less money means less staff and fewer programs.”

The meeting attendees also discussed the challenges of creating a funding model that will serve Wyoming’s small and large school districts alike.

“We’re talking about changing a model that’s set up to be equitable for the whole state,” Rep. Crank said. “But the model is how you fund it, not how you spend it at the local level — that should still be in local control.”

The legislators and school board members agreed that just because LCSD#1 doesn’t have the student population to justify spending money on certain special programs or classes, that doesn’t diminish the quality of education the district strives to provide.

“Small districts can’t provide the same breadth of education with all the different programs and clubs, but they can provide a better quality education at the core,” Sommers said. “In small communities like Kemmerer and Big Piney, the school is the center of the community, and you definitely see more support for funding education from those small districts.”

Sommers again encouraged Chaulk and the school board members to bring parents and members of the public to the Select Committee meeting on School Finance Recalibration, which will be held on Jan. 29 and 30, in Cheyenne.

Rep. Freeman chimed in with his experience as both a high school teacher in Rock Springs and a legislator.

“Depending on the subject, student testimonies during the time for public comments are also effective,” Rep. Freeman said.

Crank, Sommers and Freeman agreed that the workshop session had been a great way to keep legislators, school board members and the public on the same page before the upcoming session.

Chaulk encouraged parents to follow the LCSD#1 Facebook page for updates about education issues during the upcoming state legislative session.