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House committee advances bill to cut K-12 education

CHEYENNE (WNE)  – The House Education Committee voted 5-4 Friday afternoon to pass a bill that would cut $30 million worth of K-12 funding over the next three years.

House Bill 173 proposes a mix of cost-saving and revenue-raising measures to balance a $300 million shortfall in the state’s K-12 education budget.

If passed in its current form, the bill would earmark a 1% sales tax hike for education, redirect funds from the state’s savings accounts to the state’s school foundation program account and make some adjustments to the education model. The adjustments include the following:

  • increasing class sizes by two students;
  • increasing teacher salaries by 10% and reducing administrative salaries by the same amount and
  • increasing school districts’ allowable cash reserves from 15% to 25%.

That would equate to about a $10 million cut each year for the next three years.

“If you add all of those things up – when the 1% sales tax kicks in – it would equal over $300 million” in savings, Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, said.

House Bill 173 is a substitute for a bill drafted by the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration, which originally proposed a $100 million cut to the school foundation program account.

The House Education Committee debated amendments all week.

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, raised questions about altering the Legislature’s education model, which prescribes things like pay and classroom size.

In the end, Reps. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne; Steve Harshman, R-Casper; Sandy Newsome, R-Cody; Sommers and Committee Chair Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment, voted to advance the bill as amended, which now moves to the House floor for consideration.