Wyo. School-Aid Plan Said Successful
Wyoming's new system of allocating state aid to school districts has functioned well in its first year of operation, but could be improved by the addition of a cost-of-education factor reflecting local economic conditions, according to Lynn O. Simons, state superintendent of public instruction.
In a report last month to the legislature on behalf of the state board of education, Ms. Simons said the finance reform, which involves recapture and redistribution at the state level of some local property-tax revenue, has reduced disparities in per-pupil spending between rich and poor districts.
The new system grew out of a 1980 decision by the Wyoming Supreme Court, which found the old system unconstitutional. The formula was fashioned by the legislature last year after the state's voters approved the change in the tax structure.(See Education Week, March 30, 1983.)
"Though the major objective of the program was to provide fiscal equity," Ms. Simons's report says, "two questions became evident during the first year of operation. First, could equity be achieved without a sudden loss of funds to the large districts which educate approximately 30 percent of the children? Secondly, could the local authority for program leeway be kept intact without violating the concept of equity? ... The concepts of equity, maintenance of resources, and local control are sometimes in conflict."
Small high schools, the superintendent added, pose additional threats to equity and deserve legislative attention. "If the differences between small and large high schools create unequal educational opportunities for our students, means must be found to reduce these disparities, too," Ms. Simons told the lawmakers.
In addition to the adoption of a cost-of-education index, Ms. Simons and the board recommended that the legislature "fine-tune" the finance law by:
Standardizing property-assessment procedures, which now vary from one county to the next, leading to disparities in the relative tax burden.
Changing, from 24 or 25 to 23, the number of pupils on which a classroom unit is calculated for purposes of determining state aid. This would permit larger districts to recoup some of the funds they lost when the new state-aid system went into effect.
Eliminating mid-year adjustments of state-aid and recapture payments, so that districts can predict how much money they will have for the entire school year and meet contractual obligations.--pc