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One of the fairest school funding models in the nation might be about to fail

Kathryn Palmer, The Hechinger Report |

State-built, modern school buildings are just one example of how Wyoming has poured its mineral wealth into its school system ever since the state Supreme Court heard a series of cases — starting in 1980 — challenging the equity and adequacy of school funding in Wyoming. In 1995, the court found that legislators were indeed responsible for budgeting enough money to fund a “quality” education for all Wyoming children. And though such findings are not uncommon nationally, the result in Wyoming has been to make it the biggest spender per student in the Mountain West and one of the biggest in the United States.

Wyoming’s per-pupil expenditure in 2017 was $18,221, compared with the national average of around $13,000, according to Education Week’s Quality Counts 2020 report, which adjusts the numbers for regional cost differences. The report gave the state an A in spending and an A-minus in equity for an overall grade of A-minus (achieved by only one other state, New Jersey). Wyoming’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, too, are consistently higher than the national average and on par with Northeastern education strongholds like New Jersey.   

But as the state’s once-booming coal, oil and gas industries erode, maintaining those funding levels would mean raising taxes in one of the country’s most conservative, tax-averse states.

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