Wyoming Recalibrating its Funding Formula

Last Updated: June 25, 2010

This article appeared in the June 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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Wyoming’s school funding formula is undergoing recalibration, which is required every five years to review the current system and make needed adjustments. Lawmakers began meeting last month to hear from experts and practitioners about how schools are faring.

Wyoming’s finance system is notable in that it provides many of the most-needed supports for small, rural schools in the state, including full funding for transportation and special education. Small schools also receive additional funding in the form of unrestricted block grants.

The current system was developed in the context of the Campbell school funding litigation. The court terminated its jurisdiction of the litigation when it determined the State had fully complied with the constitutional mandate to provide a “thorough and efficient education structure,” by making the necessary changes to address at-risk students, salaries, small schools and small districts, health insurance costs, and external cost adjustments.

Wyoming uses an evidence-based approach that funds the total cost of delivering an educational “basket” in a model school. It provides an average cost per student (ADM) based upon formula components. The ADM is then adjusted to customize funding to each school district based upon its student characteristics, specific services and unique school, district and regional properties

School finance expert Larry Picus, who helped develop the funding system and conducted the audit for recalibration purposes, is consulting in the process. He has said that schools that continue to follow the model’s guidelines for staffing, or have created other successful staffing configurations, should continue to be successful and that flat funding should be sufficient for next year. The committee will continue to meet and make recommendations for next year’s legislative session.

Wyoming has not experienced the financial challenges as severe as most other states due to a booming natural gas industry, but some decreases in revenue have occurred, and the cost of living factor will not be increased this year.

Enrollment is up in Wyoming, unlike five years ago when declining enrollment was a major consideration. Rural school representatives have said that they will monitor the funding recalibration closely, because under the funding model, increasing enrollment in very small schools could mean major funding decreases.

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