Bill seeks to bypass courts

(Photo by Sydney Edwards)

A resolution of a new amendment from the Wyoming State Senate plans to bypass the Wyoming Supreme Court when deciding on funding for public schools.

Senate Resolution SJ 09, if passed, would allow legislature to determine public school funding adequacy, and would also prohibit courts from needing funding for schools beyond what is allowed by the law. In short, the legislation will take the reins from the courts on public school budgets and will determine how much schools need.

“It essentially seeks to take away the Wyoming Supreme Court’s authority to review WHETHER the legislature has created a thorough and efficient system of public schools, adequate to the proper instruction of all youth,” UW Professor of Law Michael Duff said. “Essentially, the legislature would have complete authority to decide whether schools are being adequately funded. Education would no longer be a constitutional right it would be an entirely discretionary legislative matter.”

Senator Bill Landen, who is also listed as a sponsor of the bill, had an opposing viewpoint on what the bill would mean for the state.

“In a nutshell, the bill seeks to clarify whose role it is to fund our schools. It is the position of many of us in the legislature that the funding of schools is the role of the legislature, not the courts. We want that question to go to the voters. Do they want their elected representatives deciding the adequacy of funding, or do they want that decided by judges?” Landen said.

The resolution is a new amendment to the state constitution, and is currently awaiting approval in the House after receiving two-thirds of the vote in the Senate. If it is passed in the House, then it becomes the voters’ decision on the ballot.

“That high hurdle (vote approval) is in place for obvious reasons; we take seriously the idea of changing our constitution,” Landen said.

Duff had thoughts about how much control would be given to legislators, and how that could be bad for the state.

“I never think it is a good idea to give full control over an important state right to one branch of government,” Duff said. “I think there would be great temptation for the legislature to underfund education, which in my opinion would be bad public policy.

Senator Landen said that the amendment would not change funding, and that the language for it is already in the constitution.

This would not change anything with regard to funding. Regarding funding of post-secondary education, that language already exists in the Constitution, and nothing would change if this amendment were to pass.

What Duff said was contradictory to Landen’s response.

“Without the availability of judicial review, the legislature could essentially choose any funding level for education it wanted. True, voters could later vote out members of the legislature in reaction to such a move, but that could take years,” Duff said. “If, on the other hand, the Wyoming Supreme Court were to conclude there had been educational underfunding by the legislature, judicial injunctions might be available to correct the underfunding much sooner than the next general election or even later.”

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