Cuts to K-12 funding during the 2017 legislative session could negatively affect the University of Wyoming in the future, a UW representative said.
“The university didn’t do too badly (during the legislative session) in terms of our budget,” said Chris Boswell, UW vice president of governmental and community affairs. “But the elephant in the room — there is by no means (an) agreement on what should happen with K-12 funding.”
During the UW Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday, Boswell said bills such as Senate File 166, which defunded the Science Initiative to boost capital construction projects like Carey Junior High School in Cheyenne, could have adversely affected UW but benefitted the K-12 education sector. The Legislature’s failure to pass the bill could create a rift between the K-12 sector and the university, he said.
The future of K-12 funding is uncertain, and the search for funding solutions is scheduled to continue in 2018, Boswell said.
“It’s certainly not over,” Wyoming’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said. “We’re just in a small lull in a situation that continues to be pretty dire.”
Following a $42 million reduction to UW funding during the 2016 legislative session, Boswell said legislators recognized the university’s efforts to reduce the budget.
“We are down more than 300 positions from a year ago,” Boswell said. “It’s a significant reduction for the university. The legislators see that.”
“The Senate chose not to cut the university any further.”
House Bill 136, which would have allowed people qualified for concealed carry permits to carry concealed firearms on the UW campus, failed in the senate, Boswell said.
“This very nearly was sent to the governor,” Boswell said. “This will be back.”
A bill regarding spending policies for the permanent Wyoming mineral trust fund reserve account, common school permanent fund reserve account and permanent excellence in higher education endowment reserve account could affect Legislature’s long-term spending ability, he said.
“House Bill 55 is very, very, very significant to the state of Wyoming,” Boswell said. “It affects how much will be available to (the) Legislature and to the university from three very significant funds.”
Signed by Mead on March 14, the bill could allow legislators to pull from larger reserves in the three permanent accounts, but Boswell said the short-term gain could be minute.
For all three accounts, the amount was increased to 150 percent.
House Bill 254 was signed into legislation and increased the cap for investment of state funds, which could be invested in public-purpose investments, to $1 billion.
“It’s very helpful that limit increased to $1 billion,” Boswell said. “Some of that discussion did involve UW.”
Boswell said another beneficial bill, Senate File 53, passed by the Legislature grants veterans, disabled veterans and veterans’ spouses hiring preferences.
“You might be surprised to know that UW wasn’t listed in state statute as one of the entities, which is required regarding preferential hiring systems for disabled veterans,” he said. “UW was added to that statutory requirement through Senate File 53.”