Education Funding

Study Finds Wyoming Focused Funding Increase on Teacher Pay

By Michele McNeil — June 20, 2007 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In an ambitious study that seeks to examine state education spending down to the school level, a new analysis of K-12 expenses in Wyoming shows that while per-pupil spending has swelled to one of the highest rates in the country, schools devoted a significant portion of their money to raising teacher salaries rather than hiring more educators.

Spurred by state supreme court decisions dating back to 1980 declaring the state’s school finance system unconstitutional, Wyoming legislators have nearly doubled the amount of aid for education in recent years, from $576 million in 1999 to more than $1 billion now, said Sen. Hank Coe, a Republican and the chairman of his chamber’s education committee.

In an attempt to figure out how school districts were using their money, legislators asked national consultants on school finance to examine each school during the 2006-07 academic year and to look at class sizes, staffing levels, and spending on items such as administration, transportation, and food service. The state educates about 84,600 public school students.

See Also

Further information and reports on school finance issues in Wyoming are available from the state legislature.

Funding allocated to districts for 2006-07 was based on a model that set goals for lowering class sizes, hiring tutors for struggling students, adding instructional coaches for teachers, and increasing the number of teachers in core subjects such as math and English.

The study found that school districts, collectively, had enough money to hire about 200 additional teachers for a statewide teaching force of 7,272 at the start of the school year, a figure that excludes special education teachers. But, instead, districts mostly chose to spend their money on salary raises for existing teachers. The average teacher salary in Wyoming was $39,364 in the 2002-03 school year; in 2006-07, the average salary rose to $51,077. The 11,400-student Natrona school district, in Casper, Wyo., increased its average salary over the same period to $63,112, from $41,164.

“If there’s one thing that stands out, it’s that districts have chosen not to increase [the number of] teachers, but to pay their teachers better,” Sen. Coe said. He worries that schools may, in the future, clamor for even more money because they need to hire additional teachers.

The report, and the funding model, were crafted by Lawrence O. Picus and Associates, whose key members are Mr. Picus, a professor at the University of Southern California, and Allan Odden, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their firm conducted a similar, smaller-scale study in Arkansas, where they found in a preliminary analysis that districts also spent their money to increase teacher salaries, and to boost the number of electives. (“As Budgets Swell, Spending Choices Get New Scrutiny,” March 21, 2007).

In Wyoming, researchers plan to visit every school in the state. Already, on-site interviews in 187 schools were completed for the preliminary report, the first half of a two-year study. The researchers will visit the remaining 175 of the state’s schools in the coming school year

Wyoming districts get the largest part of their state aid in the form of a block grant, which gives administrators leeway in how they spend the money. Although districts weren’t required to implement the model on which their funding was based, administrators followed the suggestions in many cases. Legislators set aside money specifically for districts to hire instructional facilitators, or coaches for teachers, and districts did add those positions to their staffs. School districts, on average, also came close to hitting the target for class sizes, which is a pupil-teacher ratio of 16-to-1 for core classes in elementary school and 21-to-1 for grades 6-12. However, the report notes that while average improved, a wide disparity in class sizes remained among individual districts, and additional teachers could have helped to narrow that gap.

“This has really gotten schools to examining how they organize for improvement,” said Mr. Picus, who presented the report to Wyoming legislators on Monday. “They probably now have enough money to do what they need to do. Already, we’re pleased to see they’re making progress.”

The finance consultants found that, as a percentage of total district expenses, school districts didn’t increase their spending on administration, operations, and food, although spending on transportation and maintenance increased slightly.

But there were worrisome trends, the report says: In addition to not hiring as many teachers as they could have, districts didn’t hire enough teacher-certified tutors to help struggling students. Instead, they apparently relied on instructional aides, who usually are not certified teachers.

Mr. Picus said it’s too soon to tell whether the added money will translate into academic gains. He said the 2006-07 academic year was the first in which legislators used a funding model that emphasized adding more core-subject teachers and student tutors. The state also is only in its second year of a revamped standardized-testing system.

What’s already clear is how high Wyoming ranks nationally in per-pupil spending. In 2002, the state spent about $9,970 per pupil; for the 2005-06 school year, spending grew by 25 percent, to $12,479. That would rank the state fourth, behind New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest education finance report, which was released last month and based on fiscal 2005 data.

Within the state, per-pupil spending varies widely because of factors such as school enrollment, the district’s geographic size (which can increase transportation costs), the age and experience of the teaching force (which affects salaries), and adjustments for areas with a higher cost of living. The range stretches from a low of $10,656 in the 2,500-student Lincoln School District No. 2, along the Wyoming-Idaho border, to a high of $32,978 in one of the state’s smallest districts, Washakie School District No. 2 in the small town of Ten Sleep, with 74 students.

Related Tags:


School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Creating Confident Readers: Why Differentiated Instruction is Equitable Instruction
Join us as we break down how differentiated instruction can advance your school’s literacy and equity goals.
Content provided by Lexia Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding What New School Spending Data Show About a Coming Fiscal Cliff
New data show just what COVID-relief funds did to overall school spending—and the size of the hole they might leave in school budgets.
4 min read
Photo illustration of school building and piggy bank.
F. Sheehan for Education Week + iStock / Getty Images Plus
Education Funding When There's More Money for Schools, Is There an 'Objective' Way to Hand It Out?
A fight over the school funding formula in Mississippi is kicking up old debates over how to best target aid.
7 min read
Illustration of many roads and road signs going in different directions with falling money all around.
Education Funding Explainer How Can Districts Get More Time to Spend ESSER Dollars? An Explainer
Districts can get up to 14 additional months to spend ESSER dollars on contracts—if their state and the federal government both approve.
4 min read
Illustration of woman turning back hands on clock.
Education Week + iStock / Getty Images Plus Week
Education Funding Education Dept. Sees Small Cut in Funding Package That Averted Government Shutdown
The Education Department will see a reduction even as the funding package provides for small increases to key K-12 programs.
3 min read
President Joe Biden delivers a speech about healthcare at an event in Raleigh, N.C., on March 26, 2024.
President Joe Biden delivers a speech about health care at an event in Raleigh, N.C., on March 26. Biden signed a funding package into law over the weekend that keeps the federal government open through September but includes a slight decrease in the Education Department's budget.
Matt Kelley/AP