As the 2017 session of the Wyoming Legislature gets ready to tackle the issues facing the state, a top education official says the state is facing major challenges in paying for education over the next few years.

Dickie Shanor is State Superintendent Jillian Balow's Chief of Staff.

He notes lawmakers have decided to appropriate $644 million savings to pay for a shortfall in state's operations account of the school foundation program for the current biennium (2017-2018).

But Shanor says the funding picture remains equally grim over the next few years, with Wyoming facing a projected budget shortfall of $360 million to $400 million in paying for school operations every year through 2022.

Shanor says the state's school facilities fund is in even worse shape, with no money whatsoever in that account. That money goes to pay for school construction and major maintenance. The facilities account has traditionally been funded through coal lease bonus money, a funding source which has completely disappeared at this point.

Governor Matt Mead said last month Wyoming education funding is in a "crisis," and while Shanor did not use that term, the overall situation he describes does nothing to contradict that characterization.

Shanor notes Balow has come out in favor of some possible cost-cutting moves in the upcoming legislative session to hopefully trim some expenses and dent the projected shortfalls. But he says his boss doesn't support "piecemeal" efforts to address the funding shortfalls, but instead favors a comprehensive effort to address the funding problem.

Shanor also says Balow doesn't want to see any hasty tax or funding decisions that would hurt the state economy or Wyoming schools over the long term.

He says she instead wants to see the problem tackled by a super committee that will take a big-picture approach to a solution. He says solving the problem may also very well involve calling lawmakers into special session at some point to deal with school funding.

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