CASPER, Wyo. — House District 57 Representative Chuck Gray proposed a an increase to the State of Wyoming’s biennium budget to fund a pilot “nonpublic” school voucher program.
His amendment to House Bill 01, the proposed general government appropriations bill, would have allocated $1.2 million “for the state superintendent of public instruction to establish a pilot project for a school voucher system.”
The House rejected Gray’s amendment.
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The pilot program would have operated for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. The program would have included 100 public school students “selected by the state superintendent from applicants without regard to school district, community or county of residence.”
“The one hundred (100) students…shall be enrolled in a nonpublic school and shall receive a payment of up to six thousand dollars ($6,000.00) per year during the pilot program, which shall be used to pay tuition costs assessed by the school in which the student is enrolled,” the proposed amendment states. “The department of education shall enter into agreements with the parents or guardians of these students to ensure funding is used exclusively for tuition.”
After killing the amendment, the House passed House Bill 01 on second reading during their Wednesday, Feb. 19 floor session.
Gray’s proposed funding would have been added to the “School Foundation Program” under section 205 of the budget pertaining to school finance.
The proposed budget includes $1,852,649,377 in funding for school finance.
Outside of the school finance section of the budget, the Department of Education stands to see a total of $325,287,038 in appropriations under section 206 of the proposed budget.
That includes $18,086,323 from the state’s general funds, $296,995,275 in federal funding and $10,205,440 from other funding sources.
There were a total of about 50 amendments to the proposed bill which the House considered on second reading.
They are expected to consider the budget bill on third reading on Friday.
The budget for the biennium is for the period between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2022.
According to the website Wyoming Sense, Governor Mark Gordon’s biennium budget requests total about $8.858 billion, including general fund, federal fund and other state fund appropriations.
House District 08 Representative Bob Nicholas serves as chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He introduced the budget process to his colleagues on Monday.
Nicholas said that severance tax revenues are “kind of a barometer” for the state’s budget outlook. He said that in 2013-2014, severance tax revenues stood at about $1.8 billion.
“Now they are below $1.2 billion,” Nicholas said. “Essentially, since that time…we’re about $600 million short just in terms of what our general coffers take in. It’s just been a big difference.”
He added that in 2010, the budget included about $4.2 billion in appropriations from the state’s general fund. The House is considering $2.97 billion in general fund appropriations under the bill.
The proposed bill also includes about $1.7 billion in federal funding appropriations as well as appropriations from accounts other than the general fund. Details are available in a fiscal note of the bill.
Nicholas explained that the Joint Appropriations Committee’s recommended general fund appropriations are less than the total requested by the governor.
“Our standard [general fund] budget is $2.74 billion,” Nicholas said.
He explained that Gordon’s proposed budget includes about $319 million in exception requests beyond the standard budget. Nicholas said that the Joint Appropriations Committee recommended reducing those exceptions by $119 million, bringing the proposed biennium appropriations in the general fund to the $2.97 billion figure.
Nicholas said that one major spot the JAC sought to keep the budget proposal low was in the area of information technology, calling IT and “exploding” expense for the state.
“Roughly $82 million [of the reduction from the governor’s recommendation] has to do with IT alone,” Nicholas said.
He said that the JAC’s recommendation is to fund IT for the first year of the biennium and hold off on funding the rest of the requests until the state explores whether there are options to keep IT costs down.
“We need to look at this and understand this better,” Nicholas said. “Will we save money, we don’t really know, but we want to evaluate it.”
He added that Gordon requested about $20.3 million for increases to state employee salaries.
“We didn’t want to jump on that bandwagon right away,” Nicholas said of the JAC.
He explained that the state is facing about $21 million in increased state employee health insurance costs.
“The health insurance pool underwater right now,” Nicholas said. “What we found is we have not been properly funding our health insurance. We have not made a recommendation to adopt [the governor’s request].”
He added that the JAC decided to not to leave $50 million on the table in anticipation of new costs from bills moving through the House and Senate this year.
Nicholas said there are a total of four biennium budget-related bill in the Legislature.
Those include a proposed bill which would appropriate $105 million for local government distributions over the biennium.
Another proposed bill deals with state funded capital construction, which includes $777,168 from the general fund.
Nicholas explained that House Bill 02 specifically deals with state funded studies or “general government reports.” He explained that there were 54 studies included in the 2018 budget session budget bill.
“We weeded out a whole bunch of them,” Nicholas said of the JAC’s proposal.
He said there are 16-17 studies which the JAC recommends the state fund this biennium.
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