Aaron Schrank

Education Reporter

Phone: 307-766-5064
Email: aschran1@uwyo.edu

Before joining WPR, Aaron worked as a freelance reporter in Los Angeles, where he earned a master’s degree in audio journalism from the University of Southern California. His radio work has aired on programs including NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American Public Media’s Marketplace and Public Radio International’s The World. Aaron has roots in Phoenix, Arizona, Southern Illinois and New Jersey. When not reporting, he spends time hiking, camping, traveling and exploring film, music and food.

Ways To Connect

Aaron Schrank/WPR

  The state agency responsible for building and maintaining Wyoming’s K-12 schools will face huge revenue shortfalls in the years ahead. That’s according to a report by University of Wyoming economists.

The vast majority of school construction funding comes from coal lease bonus payments—and those revenues are expected to dry up completely in 2017.

Wyoming’s economy is growing, but the state has not made up for job losses from 2009 and 2010. And that’s hit Wyoming’s young adults especially hard.

A report from Wyoming’s Department of Workforce Services found that the number of young adults working in the state has declined 22 percent over the past decade.

Administrators at Central Wyoming College’s culinary and hospitality program in Jackson are considering a new class schedule to allow students to continue working at hotels and resorts during the region’s busy seasons.

Students working towards associates degrees at CWC Jackson currently attend classes on a typical semester schedule. Program Director Amy Madera says the new schedule would be condensed into the tourism off-season—October and November—and April and May.

Representative John Patton of Sheridan says he will sponsor a bill that would eliminate a budget footnote that barred the State Board of Education from spending money on reviewing or adopting the Next Generation Science Standards.

The controversial standards were blocked by lawmakers in March. They took issue with how the role of humans in global climate change was presented in the science standards for K-12 education. Patton says education standards are the responsibility of the State Board, not lawmakers.

The Legislature’s Joint Education Interim Committee produced a number of noteworthy bills for lawmakers to consider when they return to Cheyenne next month. 

They include a bill to fund School Resource Officers and launch a school safety tip line—as well as a constitutional amendment that would ask voters if they’d like to see the state’s schools chief appointed instead of elected.

Kim Via Flickr

The Legislature’s Joint Education Committee voted 7 to 5 Wednesday in favor of a constitutional amendment that would ask voters to change Wyoming’s schools chief from an elected position to an appointed one.

The vote technically remains open until two absent legislators cast proxy votes. If the Committee passes it on to the full Legislature, the bill will need two-thirds of both the House and Senate to approve it before the amendment would land on the 2016 ballot for voters to decide.

Superintendent Elect Jillian Balow has announced the leadership team who will work with her at the Wyoming Department of Education.

Balow named Cheyenne attorney Dicky Shanor her Chief of Staff. Laramie County School District 1’s Brent Young will serve as Balow’s Chief Policy Officer, Laramie County 2’s Brent Bacon was named Chief Academic Officer, and Dianne Bailey will be promoted from within the Department to the role of Chief Financial Officer.

Willow Belden

Wyoming's number of Nationally Board Certified Teachers went up 16 percent over the past school year. That was the most growth seen by any state, according to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The group announced its newest class of teachers this week. National Board certification is a voluntary and rigorous assessment program to develop and recognize accomplished teachers. 

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Relationships 101: Oil And Gas Looks For A Social License To Operate

A month ago, something happened that many never imagined possible: Voters in Denton, Texas passed a ban on fracking.

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DC Central Kitchen

Two years ago, the federal government put strict new guidelines in place for school lunches to get kids eating healthier. Since then, about one million students have left the program nationwide. Many students are simply brown-bagging it— dissatisfied with what their cafeteria serves under the new standards. Others attend a small but growing number of schools who are ditching the federal program—and its dollars—altogether. There are 7 such schools in Wyoming. Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank paid one of them a visit to see how it’s working out.

Governor Mead’s supplemental budget request released Monday includes 15 million dollars for an inflation adjustment for Wyoming’s K-12 schools.

Cost-of-living adjustments have not been figured into school funding in recent years, and a coalition of school districts has been meeting with the Governor and lawmakers to push for the funding.

Sweetwater County School District Two Superintendent Donna Little- Kaumo is part of that group. She says the recommendation made by the Joint Education Committee in October—and seconded by Mead on Monday—is the right move.

Wyoming Catholic College in Lander is now a candidate for accreditation as a higher education institution, a status the small liberal arts college has been working towards for years.

Full accreditation is expected by 2018.  College President Kevin Roberts says candidacy will bring a host of privileges to the 8-year-old school.  The biggest is that college credits will now transfer to graduate programs—which has been a problem for some of the school’s past graduates.

After months of discussion about how Wyoming’s K-12 education system should be run, the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee released its final report on statewide education governance Wednesday.

The report offers suggestions for how Wyoming might change the structure education leadership in the state in the wake of Senate File 104, a failed legislative attempt to strip powers from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.

Aaron Schrank

The number of students experiencing homelessness in Wyoming has gone way up in recent years, but there are few resources for homeless Wyomingites—and almost none specific to youth. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports, public schools are on the front lines of identifying and advocating for these vulnerable young people.

Angus Thuermer / WyoFile

Last week, the Board of Trustees at the University of Wyoming approved a 5 percent tuition hike for the next academic year—and 4 percent increases for each year after that. Most of that extra revenue will be used to fund employee salary increases.

Some employees and students question the move.

Faculty Senate Chair Ed Janak says the raises are much-needed, but he isn’t sure tuition hikes are the right idea.

Stephanie Joyce

Low Gas Prices Double-Edge Sword For Wyoming

It’s lunchtime in Douglas, Wyoming and the line of cars at the McDonald’s drive-thru wraps around the building. A hiring poster hangs in the window and the parking lot is full. Leaning out the window of his black pick-up truck, Troy Hilbish says he had no idea oil prices have fallen more than a quarter in recent months. But he knows what falling oil prices mean.

University of Wyoming

Last year, the University of Wyoming saw many of its top-performing faculty leave the school to take jobs elsewhere. Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile.com. He wrote a story recently looking at this faculty exodus, its potential causes, its impacts—and what efforts UW is making to keep faculty around. Nickerson spoke with Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank.

Grade inflation is a problem at teacher training programs around the country, but not so much at the University of Wyoming’s College of Education.

That’s according to a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality—a think tank that pushes for tougher evaluations of classroom teachers—called “Easy A’s And What’s Behind Them.”

The report looked at more than 500 institutions across the country and found that teacher candidates are much more likely to earn high grades and receive honors than the broad student population.

State lawmakers this week will hear proposals to add an individual right to privacy to the Wyoming Constitution.

The Digital Information Privacy Task Force is made up of lawmakers and Wyoming citizens. Task Force Chairman Senator Chris Rothfuss says the proposed amendment would limit what information Wyoming could compile about its citizens. The goal is to ensure privacy rights aren’t ignored in service of other state interests.

Next year, state officials will visit every school building in the state to determine what safety and security upgrades need to be made. It’s part of a school safety initiative pushed by the Governor and Legislature in the wake of high-profile school shootings in other parts of the country.

The assessments will be conducted by the School Facilities Department—the state agency responsible for school construction in Wyoming. The Department’s Director, Bill Panos says the school visits will take place between January and June of 2015.

The race for Wyoming’s schools chief was expected to be a close one, but it wasn't. Republican Jillian Balow defeated Democrat Mike Ceballos in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tuesday night with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Despite his party affiliation, Ceballos earned credibility in deep-red Wyoming with his business leadership experience. He racked up a string of key endorsements, and outspent Balow during the campaign, but Ceballos says he didn’t make his case to enough people.

Wyoming Has A Shortage Of Women In The Legislature

For years women’s groups in the state have expressed concern about the lack of women in the Wyoming legislature. But it has rarely been this bad. Currently the state ranks 46th with women making up 14 percent. In 2006 the Wyoming women’s legislative caucus was formed to not only support the 14 women serving in the state legislature, but to also recruit female candidates to run for office. It hasn’t gone well.

Aaron Schrank

After the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, schools nationwide increased focus on security. Hundreds of school safety bills were proposed in state houses across the country. Spending on security systems skyrocketed. Wyoming was no exception. Just a few months after Newtown, Governor Matt Mead launched a task force to look at the safety and security of Wyoming’s schools and recommend improvements. More than a year later, Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports on where that effort stands.

A political action committee representing Wyoming teachers announced Monday it has pulled its endorsement of Jillian Balow the Republican candidate for Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Wyoming Education Association’s Political Action Committee for Education—known as WEA-PACE—endorsed both Balow and her Democratic opponent Mike Ceballos before this year’s primaries.

But Balow’s rhetoric about organized labor in a recent fundraising letter caused concern among the group of educators. In the letter, Balow criticized her opponent for receiving union support.  

Aaron Schrank

Fort Washakie High School on the Wind River Indian Reservation was a charter high school until a few years ago. Now it’s a public school. Most of its classes used to be online. Now, it’s building a brick-and-mortar building for 150 students.

For now, around 50 kids and a dozen teachers make do in makeshift classrooms. The school’s last reported graduation rate was just 7 percent, but as it morphs into a more traditional high school, the current crop of students has high hopes for the future.

The Legislature’s Joint Education Interim Committee voted 10 to three Thursday to support providing adjustments to school funding based on inflation.

The state is supposed to account for annual fluctuations in the costs of goods and labor when funding schools, but these inflation adjustments haven’t been made for the past four years. A coalition of school districts who spoke before the Committee Thursday say this has cost Wyoming’s school districts more than $150 million—and led to salary freezes, layoffs and program cuts.

Aaron Schrank/WPR

The gay rights advocacy group that has been fighting Wyoming’s gay marriage ban in state court for the past year celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state Tuesday.

Wyoming Equality’s executive director Jeran Artery stood outside the Cheyenne court house and watched two couples emerge with marriage licenses--and then tie the knot in brief official ceremonies near the court house entrance. 

Artery says this is what his group has been working for.

Yellowstone Gate via Flickr Creative Commons

In a report on the status of Wyoming’s schools released last week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill says that the Legislature has overstepped its authority when it comes to education issues in the state.

Hill says lawmakers have used their responsibility for funding K-12 education as an excuse to manage it.

“The legislature has the power of the purs

  e,” says Hill. “Yes, they’re responsible for funding, but not all of the decisions that are related.”

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