Trial Could Decide Wyoming Education Association’s Claims That Wyoming Needs To Spend More Money On Schools

A Wyoming Education Association lawsuit claiming the state is violating its own constitution by not adequately funding public education is on track for trial.

Leo Wolfson

May 02, 20234 min read

Wyoming education association and state capitol 5 2 23

The Wyoming Education Association and state of Wyoming are preparing to go to trial.

The court will hold a scheduling conference May 9 to discuss details of a trial to settle a dispute between the WEA and state.

In August 2022, the WEA filed a legal complaint against the state in Laramie County District Court, accusing the state of violating the Wyoming Constitution by not providing adequate funding for Wyoming’s public schools.

The state attempted to have the complaint dismissed, but the court denied the motion.

What’s It About?

The WEA, a collective of about 6,000 advocates for Wyoming’s elementary and secondary schools, is accusing the Wyoming Legislature of neglecting its duty to provide enough money for schools amid record-high inflation. 

The association is asking the court to compel the Wyoming Legislature to give the state’s K-12 schools more money for competitive hiring, better equipment, more school counselors and other reported needs.    

The state asked Laramie County District Judge Peter Froelicher to throw out the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs lack jurisdiction and standing to bring the lawsuit.

In a late 2022 decision, Froelicher dismissed the WEA’s requests for punitive damages and attorney’s fees, but still agreed to hear the case, finding the organization has legal claims that could be addressed. 

The Wyoming Constitution requires the state to provide equitable funding to its K-12 public schools.

The WEA argues the state has not lived up to the Constitution’s mandate for a “complete and uniform” public education system funded by the state Legislature.

It also claims the state has failed to address teacher shortages and that it cannot continue to use declining mineral revenues as a reason to not address the state’s education needs.

The Legislature goes through a process every five years to ensure that K-12 funding remains adequate and equitable, a process known as recalibration. 

In 2022, Wyoming’s two-year budget from its main general appropriations account was 0.8% larger this year than it was in 2010. In 2010, Wyoming was paying teachers about 25% above the average national salary, but the difference now is not as pronounced.

State’s Response

In court filings, the state would not opine as to whether it has adequately funded education in Wyoming. 

It argues that the WEA failed to plead facts establishing a justifiable controversy and failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The state also argues that the alleged harm addressed is a result of actions from third parties, which it can’t control. 

It is the Wyoming Legislature that approves all money for the state’s schools and the role of the Wyoming Department of Education to administer and distribute it.

It’s the responsibility of the Wyoming Attorney General to defend the Legislature’s funding model in court.

A Legislative Perspective

During this year’s legislative session, the body established a physician assistant’s training program at the University of Wyoming and created the Wyoming’s Tomorrow Scholarship.

On the issue of school funding, it approved a $43.3 million external cost adjustment increase as a short-term, one-year funding boost.

State Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, said this was an important step in ensuring equitable funding for Wyoming’s schools.

“I think we made great steps in doing that for the funding model,” he said. “It’s a challenge for us to be redoing the funding model, but we’ve come a long way in terms of funding.”

But this temporary solution doesn’t address the issue of school funding in Wyoming in the long run.

In 2022, a $90 million shortfall was identified between a consultant’s suggestion for the Legislature’s K-12 funding model and the current statutory model presented by Legislative Service Office analysts.

Larsen said this model has not been adjusted for many years.

“I think we need to take a look at that for efficiency's sake,” he said. “It’s worth the exercise.”

‘Woke’ Ideology

The WEA is a prominent voice at the Legislature and has been criticized by some Republicans for its actions and lobbying efforts and accused of promoting “woke” ideology. 

The education group opposed a school choice bill during the 2023 session and another bill lifting an exemption on librarians and educators from prosecution for disseminating obscene materials to adults and minors.

During the supplemental budget discussion this year, an amendment was proposed that would have denied school districts from incorporating funding into teacher salaries for staff to receive training from the Wyoming Education Association. The amendment failed by a sizable margin.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter