Education Finance

Yesterday the Select Committee on Education Finance unanimously rejected the recommendations of the Colorado consultants whose recalibration study recommended that Wyoming spend $70 million more on K-12 education. The committee’s courageous vote may spark litigation from unhappy school districts, such as Campbell County school district in Gillette, which stands to lose about $11 million per year.

In a seemingly unrelated development the same day, the Wyoming Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Evanston resident Karl Allred. Mr. Allred had challenged the State’s award of approximately $300 million in contracts for the Capitol Square Project in Cheyenne without following constitutionally mandated bid procedures.

The Supreme Court held that it did not have jurisdiction because Mr. Allred lacked standing, i.e., he did not allege a specific injury to himself arising out of the State’s conduct.

Although the Allred decision is a disappointment for many conservatives, the silver lining is that the Supreme Court reaffirmed its obligation to honor the separation of powers. Under the separation of powers doctrine, courts are supposed to handle judicial functions only and leave legislative and executive functions to their respective branches of government.

The court’s reaffirmation of the separation of powers doctrine in Allred may bode well for the K-12 education finance system. Under the Campbell decisions, the Wyoming Supreme Court dictates to the legislature the method for measuring the adequacy of school funding, usurping the legislative function of how to spend taxpayer dollars. The Supreme Court reads the tea leaves of Wyoming’s constitution to mean that the only permissible model for school funding is one that is “cost based.” The result is a one way ratchet of ever higher costs, because costs are how constitutional adequacy is measured.

The Campbell decisions represent a well-intentioned but failed social engineering experiment. No reasonable person would pronounce a mere cost increase as a badge of success, yet that is what the Campbell decisions require. The result has been skyrocketing education costs without corresponding advancements in actual learning, which the framers of the constitution might have thought was, after all, the purpose of the K-12 system.

When unhappy school districts start the next round of education finance litigation against the state, hopefully the Supreme Court will remember what it just said in Allred.

© Clark Stith 2018
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