In a press release yesterday, the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) announced total statewide enrollment in Wyoming was down 1,894 students for the 2020-21 school year when compared to the 2019-20 year. Total enrollment in Wyoming K-12 schools was 91,938.
That’s not to say that some districts didn’t see an increase, with Niobrara County School District #1 (Lusk) seeing a 76.8% increase, adding 607 students this year for a total of 1,397. Big Horn County School District #1 also saw a 68.1% increase, adding 729 students in the current year.
The release notes that 10 school districts saw an increase in enrollment while 38 districts saw a decrease. When looking at numbers over the past 30 years, it appears Wyoming’s highest K-12 enrollment occurred in school year 1993-94 with 100,757 total students.
Local numbers down
Locally, Campbell County School District #1 (CCSD) saw a decrease of 263 students from 8,830 students in the 2019-20 school year to 8,567 students in the 2020-21 school year. The change in enrollment for CCSD was similar across all grade levels.
Enrollment numbers are important for local school districts because funding is tied to average daily membership (ADM). The enrollment numbers announced by WDE yesterday will be used to set funding for the 2021-22 school year. Based upon a complicated formula that utilizes model schools, model districts, and ADM the State of Wyoming calculates the amount of money “needed” to operate each school district. Those districts whose local property taxes generate more money than the formula designates send a check to the state. Those districts whose local property taxes do not generate enough money to fund the district based upon the formula receive a check from the state.
To date, CCSD has sent more money to the state, what is called recapture, than any other district in Wyoming. For the current school year the district will send $4.3 million to the state for distribution to other districts (one of the lowest amounts ever). Since recapture began in 1984, CCSD has sent the state just shy of $1 billion for distribution to other Wyoming school districts ($962,471,000 in total recapture payments by CCSD), according to CCSD Fiscal Budget Manager Shelly Haney.
Enrollment within Wyoming schools is complicated by the state’s budget crisis, with education as a whole running in the negative and the Wyoming Legislature being unwilling to generate new revenues and reluctant to cut education funding, worried they will face lawsuits from school districts.
A series of legal decisions from the Wyoming Supreme Court beginning in the 1980s and continuing through the early 2000s established precedents that many believe prevents the Legislature from cutting education funding (like has been done for all other state agencies and local government), regardless of revenues, with the Court recognizing that all Wyoming students are entitled to an education with the whole “basket of goods” and placing responsibility with the Legislature to fund that mandate.