WYOMING EDUCATION FINANCE ISSUES REPORT:
The Feasibility of Developing a Cost Adjustment for Vocational-Technical Education Programs
Wyoming's new Cost-Based Block Grant Model for school finance is intended to ensure that each public school district in the state receives adequate funding to offer students equal access to a "proper" education, as defined by existing Wyoming statute. The new model estimates the operating revenue eligibility of school districts—on a per-student basis—using actual cost data gleaned from Wyoming school districts. To ensure that district grants accurately reflect the cost of educating students to the legislative standard, the model incorporates data on approximately 25 instructional and operating components that capture the major costs of educating youth.
One criticism of the new block grant model is that, while it accounts for costs associated with various instructional strategies, it does not include a separate cost component for vocational education. Because historically providing vocational education usually costs more per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student than does academic instruction, some argue that such cost differences should be explicitly addressed in Wyoming's new state funding system.
In fact, the proposed new system does already account for these cost differences. The basic block grant provided by the new system is based on actual data from Wyoming's school districts on costs and expenditures. In the aggregate, total spending statewide for education under the new system will not decline. Therefore, on the average, the proposed new funding level is sufficient to cover the costs of all modes of instruction presently being used in Wyoming's schools, including vocational education.
Nevertheless, while the block grant is sufficient, on the average, to fund vocational education, if there are significant variations among districts in requirements for providing vocational education, then failing to take these considerations into account may make it difficult for some districts to maintain their current quantity or quality of vocational services. Should the new funding system, therefore, explicitly make adjustments among districts for differences in the delivery of vocational education? That is the question this paper considers.
The paper consists of three major sections. The first reviews the proposed block grant system and examines the rationale for introducing adjustments among districts to reflect differences in the costs of providing vocational education. Are there sound arguments for making such modifications, and if so, are there practical implementation strategies? The second section provides detail on the various factors that contribute to the higher costs of vocational education. If vocational education cost adjustments were deemed desirable for education funding in Wyoming, what is known about the causes of higher costs, and what kinds of practices have other states adopted? The third section offers some guidance on how Wyoming might proceed with vocational education cost adjustments. What kinds of data is the state likely to need, and are there strategies other than cost adjustments that could be pursued to ensure that students have access to high-quality vocational instruction? The paper concludes with a brief summary.