CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – A bill that would have lifted a cap on special education funding in Wyoming has failed to pass the Senate before the end of the legislative session.
The majority of K-12 funding comes from state mineral taxes, but state officials discovered that relying on an increasingly unstable industry is not sustainable, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported.
Currently, lawmakers are looking for ways to cut down the budget, including reducing special education funding.
“It’s part of a bigger problem,” said Republican state Rep. David Northrup, who chaired the House Education Committee and voted for House Bill 46, which later died in the Senate. “We’re entering into an unprecedented time in Wyoming where it’s been many decades since we’ve been short on money like we’re projected to be.”
The vote comes amid growing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on the economy.
The state previously reimbursed districts for 100% of the costs to provide special education services, but a three-year spending cap was approved in 2018 that kept the reimbursement amount tied to the districts spending.
“There are a number of districts who spent more in special education expenditures than we could reimburse,” said Trent Carroll, chief operations officer for the Wyoming Department of Education, which supported removing the cap early. “We’ve heard concerns from many school districts related to special education funding.”
Special education costs continuously rise by 1% to 4% each year, and the cap leaves school districts to make up the difference.
“It was a way to implement budget cuts by avoiding increased special education costs,” Laramie County District Finance Director Jed Cicarelli said, adding that his district spends up to $33 million a year to serve more than 1,850 students.
Another bill to find funding for special education services is currently awaiting Republican Gov. Mark Gordon’s signature. If enacted into law, the legislation will allow Wyoming to join the other 49 states in tapping federal Medicaid money to match half of its special education costs. It would take effect in 2021.
“I think people are realizing that this is not a place to really mess around much in terms of education funding,” Wyoming School Boards Association Executive Director Brian Farmer said. “Federal law doesn’t allow you to skimp when it comes to providing special education services.”
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