- Associated Press - Friday, March 3, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming lawmakers reached compromise hours before they were set to adjourn for the year Friday on an education finance bill that cuts spending and doesn’t increase taxes just yet. The education finance bill is among many still waiting for a vote before adjournment.

Fixing an education funding shortfall on track to top $380 million a year was one of Gov. Matt Mead’s top hopes for the eight-week session. With final House and Senate approval the bill, which begins that potentially years-long process, would head to his desk.

Friday evening, the House continued to vote on several last-minute bills; the education funding bill was in the queue. The Senate waited and ordered pizza.

The compromise bill carries $34.5 million in education cuts. While not nearly enough to erase the shortfall before it sets in next year, the cuts would be paired with the outlines of a process to revamp education funding amid weak revenue from coal, oil and natural gas extraction.

With final approval by the Legislature and Mead, a special legislative committee and Mead appointees would get to work on the problem year-round.

A conference committee of three senators and three representatives compromised on the bill after the House voted 51-9 earlier Friday not to agree to Senate changes to the measure. The changes included stripping a half-cent state sales tax increase and reallocation of $84 million in mineral tax revenue toward K-12 education - revenue measures that originated in the House.

Senators said they didn’t want to commit to new and earmarked revenue when the state’s fiscal outlook could improve before emergency funding for the K-12 system runs out in the next year or so. In conference with House members, they stuck to their guns.

“I can just tell you we’re not going to budge on those two,” Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, told his House counterparts.

The committee instead compromised on funding for instructional facilitators - education experts who coach teachers - to get roughly midway between the $32.5 million in cuts proposed by the House and $37.5 million sought by the Senate.

Other cuts would freeze development of alternative schools and prohibit school districts from buying or leasing new school buses. The state also would tinker with how it calculates student enrollment for funding purposes.

A supplemental budget lawmakers have sent to Mead contains $20 million in education cuts for the 2019-20 biennium that would take effect should Mead not approve the education spending bill. Mead told legislative leaders he was concerned those budget cuts could interfere with an upcoming review of the state’s school-funding model.


Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver

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