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Gordon: K-12 education ‘the biggest elephant’ as Wyoming works to avoid $885M budget deficit

2020 Midwest graduation. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon said during his “State of the State Address” on Tuesday, March 2 that “the biggest elephant in the Capitol this year is the future of Wyoming’s K-12 education system.”

“We must ensure that the next generation of Wyoming students will graduate with the tools necessary to succeed in this modern economy and that is a moral obligation,” he said. “How we get there and how we afford it is a question that is now before us.”

With the state facing ballooning deficits driven by education spending, the legislature is considering cuts to K-12 education spending. House Bill 61 as drafted would decrease Wyoming’s School Foundation Program funding model by $100 million starting in fiscal year 2022, according to the Legislative Service Office.

Each school district’s School Foundation Program funding amount would be reduced “by an amount equal to $100.0 million divided by the statewide average daily membership multiplied by a district’s average daily membership each school year,” the LSO states.

House Majority Floor Leader Albert Sommers (Sublette County) said during a Feb. 9 press conference that the state’s budget shortfall moving forward is expected to grow by around $300 million per year.

Sen. Dave Kinskey (Sheridan, Johnson Counties) helped prepare a long-term revenue forecast for the state which projects that the deficit to the state’s General Fund, School Foundations Program Account and School Capital Construction Account could rise again to $75 million by the Fiscal Year 2023-2024 biennium and the shortfall could balloon further to around $885 million by FY 2025-2026.

Gordon said on Tuesday that the state’s K-12 funding model is no longer sustainable.

“The hand-writing is on the wall,” he said. “The can we kick down the road every year, it is broken. We have to deal with this issue.”

Gordon said that “it is not clear that more money necessarily equals better education or that less does either.”

In any case, he said the state “simply can’t wait until we are out of money before taking action.”

Gordon said that education stakeholders across the state need to come together to create “a plan and a vision” for the future of Wyoming education, including not only K-12 education but also early childhood and higher education.

“Education is changing, work is changing,” he said. “People want and need more opportunities and approaches. Wyoming needs to respond. Our financial challenges will likely necessitate it.”

Gordon’s full “State of the State Address” can be viewed on the Wyoming PBS Youtube channel: