Wyoming Liberty Group
Education Consultant Faults Wyoming
Wyoming has been paying a ton of money for K-12 education since 2005. The reason for the heavy spending? It was a major Wyoming Supreme Court/Legislative overhaul of the way our schools were being funded to equalize spending among students.
Now we find that the consultants, on whose advice the spending was largely based, criticize the system for weak performance. Unbiased observers who look at the facts have to agree that skyrocketing spending isn’t improving results.
The consultants, Picus, Odden & Associates (“PICUS”), were retained in 2005 by our legislature to help craft the system by which supreme court mandates were to be implemented. Their updated recalibration report issued to the legislature in November of 2015 didn’t get much press, but it should have.
PICUS built us up with Wyoming’s standard: “No matter what course of studies a high school student completes – college prep or career tech – all of Wyoming’s students are expected to achieve to college and career ready standards. This includes children from low-income homes, students of color, English language learners (ELL) and students with disabilities.” They assure us, “Over the past decade, Wyoming’s policy makers have provided more than sufficient funding to meet this goal and continue to work to ensure the Wyoming K-12 Funding Model meets the needs of all students.”
Then they let us down, “We would argue that the funds the Legislature has provided to its schools through the Legislative Model provide resources that could be used to boost student achievement to higher levels than have been obtained to date.” That’s a pretty painful admission about a system they helped guide from its inception and which has received lavish support ever since.
The report states that starting in 2005 school operating revenues grew by 62%, substantially greater than inflation, culminating in a 2015 total of over $17,000 per student (excluding capital construction funding). See Graph Below.
Additionally, PICUS said, “It would be reasonable to expect a significant improvement in student performance after this notable funding gain.” But “…data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) suggest improvements in student performance have not grown at the same pace as the growth in revenues for education in Wyoming.”
What an understatement. PICUS relies on NAEP scores. NAEP is the national testing system which has been around for years and is the gold standard for measuring results. (Graph 2 Below)
PICUS declare that Wyoming’s NAEP scores equal or exceed national averages. Sound good? Perhaps - until you consider how low the national average has become. There is no grade or subject where more than half of kids meet the standard “proficient or better.” That means at least half of kids are failing Wyoming’s standard. Look at Graphs 2 and 3. They are flat, showing little to no improvement in scores. Given their own state of the art advice and the money showered on the system, PICUS clearly expected better. Wyoming citizens should, too. How would still more money improve matters? (Graph 3 Below)
Matching national averages does not sound ok when you learn Wyoming spends at least 40 percent more than the national average per pupil. Repeat: Wyoming spends 40% more than the national average but only achieves average results. In contrast, our neighbors Colorado, Montana and Utah all spend much less per pupil and still achieve similar scores. Wyoming spending is out of whack in relation to the results achieved. See Graphs 4 – 7 which show 2014 spending (from the US Census Bureau for comparability between states) and 2015 NAEP scores. Is there any plausible reason to believe scores must go down if LESS money is spent?
PICUS’ criticism is valid and their disappointment in Wyoming’s performance is apparent: “Wyoming’s taxpayers, parents, legislators, educators and students will need to determine the degree to which student performance needs to improve.”
But who’s at fault? For ten years now, Wyoming has blindly accepted their advice and that of the education establishment, paid them vast sums and waited for achievement. What we’ve gotten in return is underperformance, ill-equipped kids and disappointment. What’s wrong? The professionalism of our teachers? Is it our kids? Or is it the advice and abilities of those who design and administer the system? It’s time citizens and conscientious legislators demand answers and meaningful changes. Changes like getting more of school funding spent in the classroom, cutting bureaucracy, allowing real school choice, and improving our charter school laws, among others. Wyoming wants and has been paying to be better than average.