Coalition of Wyoming school districts says state has underfunded K-12 schools by $151 million

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CASPER, Wyoming — A new coalition of seven Wyoming school districts says the state Legislature has shortchanged K-12 funding by $151 million in recent years by failing to keep up with inflation.

The districts want to recoup the money and want adjustments for inflation to be included as an annual, automatic part of the state's budget.

The districts signed onto the coalition are Campbell County School District No. 1, Carbon County No. 1, Johnson County No. 1, Sheridan County No. 1, Sublette County No. 1, Sweetwater County No. 2, and Teton County School District No. 1.

The group calls itself the Wyoming School District Coalition for an External Cost Adjustment.

The $151 million figure represents the group's calculation of about how much the state's 48 school districts would have received between 2011-2013 had inflation adjustments been granted.

"Our purchasing power has been decreasing consistently and exponentially over that time," Gerry Chase, superintendent in Johnson County School District No. 1, said. "The cost of paying your heating bills, paying for fuel, paying for all the costs to operate schools has increased. Yet there's been no adjustment for inflation."

Chase said his district staff has been reduced by 18 full-time positions since 2011 as a result of the lack of inflation adjustments.

The district's enrollment has grown from 1,247 students in the 2010-11 school year to 1,277 students in 2013-14.

Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, chairman of the Joint Appropriations Committee, said inflation adjustments had been stopped in those years because inflation adjustments made in previous years were too high.

"We were kind of outpacing inflation early on," Harshman said. "We were giving too big an adjustment."

The Legislature considers adjusting for inflation each year, but whether funding increases as a result is not guaranteed, he told the Casper Star-Tribune ( ).

The Legislature provided a partial cost of living increase to schools in its most recent budget, which took effect July 1.

Wyoming ranks among the top states in terms of spending per K-12 student.

Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune,

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