Friday, February 6, 2015

I'm just a bill

Here's an update on recent college-related action at the Wyoming State Legislature. The system of seven Wyming community colleges has the following three agenda items for this General Session (Budget Sessions are in even-numbered years). I've included updates with each item.
  • Funding formula revision: This is our most important request before the legislature. Our present State Aid is composed of the Standard Budget and an Enrollment Growth Fund component; the latter requires exception budget requests that have rarely been fully funded the last several years. House Bill 118 proposes recalibrating it every four years. Passage of the legislation will help stabilize our funding so that community colleges are able to plan and make strategic data-based decisions. While the bill includes what legislators refer to as a "fiscal note" because of additional anticipated funding in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, it doesn't provide additional funds for next year. More than 30 legislators, including several from the Big Horn Basin, are co-sponsors, so there appears to be strong support.
    • UPDATE: The House Education Committee supported it 9-0. Because of its fiscal note, it went to the House Appropriations Committee this morning. Committee members supported it 7-0, but an amendment for further study may come forward. Assuming positive action in the House during the next couple of days, the bill will be assigned to a Senate committee for consideration.
  • Matching gift funding: The colleges are requesting one-time matching gift funding, a program that has been immensely helpful for fundraising activities and for students; that's certainly true here at Northwest. Our hope is that we'll gain the ability to use funds for facilities projects.
    • UPDATE: The House Appropriations Committee voted to set aside $20 million as a placeholder for the next biennium, but not for funding this next year, 2015-16. Work is being done to move funding into the state's overall supplemental budget so we have it next year, but I don't expect it to be accomplished with ease.
  • Capital construction: Given recent completion of our new Yellowstone Building, NWC has no construction project on the table at this session. A couple of the colleges have proposals for level II design studies to be funded at about $250,000-$300,000 per project.
Guns-in-schools bill: In addition, we're working to oppose a bill (House Bill 114) that would repeal gun-free zones in public schools, colleges, the University of Wyoming and in public buildings. The Judiciary Committee voted 8-1 to support the bill, and then it easily passed third reading in the House Monday morning 42-17. That sends it on its way to the Senate early this week where we believe it may meet with more opposition. Our concerns revolve around maintaining a safe campus environment and having local control.

We're watching several other bills, including one that extends the Wyoming Investment in Nursing (WyIN) program until 2020 and is moving along nicely. On the nursing front, a University of Wyoming funding request to place a faculty member on each campus for its BSN program was cut. Unfortunately, also cut was a proposed scholarship fund for "career and technical education" students. Late additions to the long list of bills include a couple that propose changes to the Hathaway Scholarship program, modifying definitions and semester hour requirements.
Know that NWC joins the other six colleges in fighting the good fight in Cheyenne!
Below is an old Schoolhouse Rock video. It may concern you to know that everything I know about how the legislature works I learned by watching "Bill" on Saturday mornings.

Have a good weekend!

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