Wyoming Debates Funding Accountability

Last Updated: August 26, 2010

This article appeared in the August 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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Wyoming’s school finance process is unique in that it requires the state to recalibrate the funding model every five years. (See the June RSFN at www.ruraledu.org/articles.php?id=2507) To this end, the Wyoming Select Committee on School Finance has been meeting since the spring to evaluate the current model’s accuracy in measuring the cost of a quality education and its fairness in distributing funds to districts.

Currently, each of Wyoming’s 48 districts receives a different amount of school funding, based on the formula. Funds are distributed as block grants that provide local districts extensive local control in how spending decisions are made.

This month, Governor Freudenthal called on lawmakers to require greater "accountability" for districts. The Governor’s challenge is similar to the recommendations of school finance consultants, Allan Odden and Larry Picus, who are working with the state in the design of the funding system. Odden and Picus have suggested that the system incorporate a framework of rewards and sanctions — including pay increases, freezes, and personnel dismissals — for districts based on designated academic benchmarks.

In a letter to the Committee, Freudenthal takes the recommendation further by suggesting that funding be tied to student performance. His recommendations emphasize district explanations of how they use their funds, particularly when districts choose to spend money in ways that do not reflect the funding model. Districts with lower academic outcomes could be forced to justify their spending choices or lose some of their spending flexibility.

The issue of performance pay for teachers — basing pay on the test scores of students — is becoming an increasingly prominent part of the education policy landscape, but there is little consensus on appropriate measures of performance and even less research on how performance pay programs would impact rural schools.

The federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant program emphasizes tying teacher evaluation and pay to student data as part of the selection criteria for state grants. Wyoming decided not to participate in the second round of RTTT competition. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jim McBride characterized the federal grant as urban-centric and said that Wyoming could develop its own reform initiatives that reflected its unique needs.

Read more:

Local coverage of Freudenthal’s letters to the Committee:

Governor Freudenthal’s letters to the committee:

Editorial on recalibration process:

McBride on Race to the Top:

Read more from the August 2010 Rural Policy Matters.