One of the fairest school funding models in the nation might be about to fail
Annie Good and her co-teacher have made their fifth grade classroom a homey space for their 33 students. The room is on the south wing of the sprawling K-12 education complex in Shoshoni, a town of 649 people. The $49 million school building, up the road from the abandoned storefronts downtown, can make visitors look twice, said Christopher Konija, Shoshoni’s police chief, who is also town clerk and treasurer.
The state-built, modern building is just one brick-and-mortar 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.
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