Wyoming Supreme Court Won’t Say (For Now) If School Funding A Fundamental Right

Though the state appealed, the Wyoming Supreme Court declined to interfere with a lower court's ruling that funding education in Wyoming is a fundamental right on par with free speech.

Clair McFarland

September 21, 20233 min read

Campbell County High School in Gillette, Wyoming.
Campbell County High School in Gillette, Wyoming. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The Wyoming Supreme Court has denied the state’s request for mid-lawsuit clarification on a legal issue as a teachers’ advocacy group and several schools are accusing the state of skimping on education funding.  

Filed Tuesday, the high court’s denial is terse. It says that though Wyoming asked for review on a legal question last month, the court has chosen to deny that petition after reviewing the briefs following the petition.

That question was whether education funding adequacy is a fundamental right on par with free speech.  

Laramie County District Court Judge Peter H. Froelicher ruled July 31 that it is - and the high court's refusal to grapple with the issue upholds that ruling.

That categorization brings with it the most rigorous legal test possible when courts evaluate state laws and budgets involving school funding.  

Unless the Wyoming Supreme Court reverses the categorization after this case’s conclusion, it will put Wyoming in the position of having to defend any school-funding inadequacies by proving the state had a compelling reason for them and crafted them in the least onerous way possible.   

That test is called strict scrutiny.  

Lobby Group Rejoices 

The Wyoming Education Association, along with multiple school districts, is suing the state claiming Wyoming doesn’t fund education well enough and celebrated the victory in a Tuesday press release.  

“Already we have seen multiple attempts by the State to prevent or prolong our opportunity to explore the merits of our case in Court,” said WEA President Grady Hutcherson in the statement. “We are grateful that the Supreme Court has upheld the decision made by the District Court — a decision which we feel is a just, appropriate ruling regarding the burden of proof to be applied in our case.” 

Hutcherson characterized the state’s petition as a stalling tactic, saying that, “Our students and educators should not be waiting in legal limbo.” 

“The gap between school funding and students’ real needs is mounting every day,” Hutcherson continued. “They need adequate resources for quality education, and they need them now.” 

WEA in its brief said Wyoming should not have petitioned the state Supreme Court in the middle of the case, but can appeal after trial if it wishes.

Some Concern At The Capitol 

WEA may be rejoicing, but some state legislators have bemoaned the tight system the judicial branch has imposed on them for years with respect to school funding, saying it discourages thrift.  

Gov. Mark Gordon, whose appointed Attorney General’s Office launched the petition and is fighting WEA’s lawsuit in court, declined to comment, via his spokesman Thursday.   

The case is set for a five-week bench trial in June 2024. 

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter