Lawmakers to address K-12 school capital construction during interim

Apr. 2—CHEYENNE — Lawmakers will play catch-up this interim leading up to the 2025 general session as school districts work to complete studies related to construction projects and prepare to advocate for funding them.

Before any topics are discussed, members of the Legislature's Select Committee on School Facilities will review the state's process for approving K-12 capital construction projects. This committee works with the School Facilities Commission and State Construction Department to put together a budget that funds school construction projects across the state.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, proposed defunding school capital construction projects during the 2024 budget session because he said the Legislature was being asked to fund projects before the required Most Cost Effective Remedy, or MCER, studies were complete. That, he argued, is not how the process is supposed to work.

Lawmakers ultimately included more than $300 million for K-12 school construction in the 2025-26 biennium budget that was signed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle this was a "sad move" on Hicks' part, noting the Wyoming Supreme Court has previously ruled that the state must provide adequate funding for all public school facilities.

All committee members and chairs are appointed by the Legislature's presiding officers. The other senators on the committee are: Sens. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester; Troy McKeown, R-Gillette; Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie; and vice chair Bill Landen, R-Casper.

The select committee is chaired by Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne. Other House members on the committee are: Steve Harshman, R-Casper; Ember Oakley, R-Riverton; Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne; and Liz Storer, D-Jackson.

Brown told the WTE on Monday that he anticipates the initial discussion will last four to six hours, diving into everything from the Campbell Supreme Court cases to the skewed prioritization lists that came out last year.

"The biggest issue right now is we're held by strict scrutiny within the Campbell decisions on how we fund schools," Brown said. "If we don't fund schools, I believe that gives anybody who's raising any type of litigation against us more ammunition to use against us."

Another big focus of the committee this interim is to work with stakeholders "catching up" on delayed projects. The process of listing school construction projects got a bit skewed when the Legislature failed to pass funding for an updated Facility Capacity Index/Facility Condition Index (FCI) list in 2020.

Traditionally, every four years, the state pays a third-party assessor to evaluate and put together an FCI list, which prioritizes school construction projects based on their capacity and condition needs. Capacity refers to the number of students in a classroom, and condition refers to the physical building.

The Legislature failed to pass the school capcon budget in 2020, which contained money for a new assessment. A new FCI assessment didn't come out until 2023, and it was put together by a new third-party assessor.

This new list contained a different prioritization of school facilities projects than the list that came out in 2016. For example, Cheyenne's Buffalo Ridge Elementary was placed closer to the top of the new priority list, despite a recent $8 million renovation.

The biggest area for the committee to consider, Brown said, will be catching up on desperately needed school construction projects that were placed at the bottom of the priority list.

"This committee is going to have a lot of work to do over the course of the next year, and even up to two to three years," Brown said.

In Laramie County School District 1, officials are anticipating funds for two new elementary schools, one of which is to replace Arp Elementary School. Students from that school are currently attending classes in the Eastridge swing space attached to the old Carey Junior High.

Major maintenance formula

Another priority for the committee this interim is to review the major maintenance formula for both enhancement and square footage calculations.

Last year, the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee worked through major maintenance calculations for state-owned buildings, which encompassed K-12 schools to some extent, Brown said.

What wasn't addressed, however, was how schools use these funds for "enhancements." Enhancements are any additional facility projects that are not considered critical to the school's infrastructure, such as the addition of lanes to a school swimming pool. However, the district would still be responsible for fronting not only the costs of the lanes, but all other related major maintenance costs.

There are also caveats to calculating the major maintenance formula based on square footage. The current formula factors in a certain number of square feet per student, and then multiplies that by the number of students in a school. This equals the amount of "allowable square footage," and the major maintenance formula funds a certain percentage of that amount. The rest is funded by the school district.

"That's not fair to the school district to figure out how they can backfill that," Brown said. "Especially the smaller school districts — they're already penny pinching."

However, funding up to 100% of the allowable square footage is also an issue, because it creates an equity problem across the state. Just because it's a bigger school doesn't automatically mean it should get more funding, Brown said.

Further information on interim study topics by the Select Committee on School Facilities is available online at, under the "Meeting Materials" tab of the Management Council's April 1 meeting.

Hannah Shields is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's state government reporter. She can be reached at 307-633-3167 or You can follow her on X @happyfeet004.