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

Wyoming Lawmakers Spar With Obama On Middle Class Agenda

Republicans now control the gavels on Capitol Hill, but last week they were given a stark reminder of how limited their power is here in the nation’s capital when President Obama delivered his State of the Union address where he touted recent economic gains.

Zach Montes

Last November, President Obama announced a major executive action on immigration—a plan that would offer temporary legal status and deportation relief to millions of immigrants who live in the country without documents. That’s big news for residents of Jackson. In the past few decades, the town’s Latino immigrant population has skyrocketed from basically zero—to about 30 percent of the community. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports, these changes to immigration law could bring new opportunities to Jackson’s working class immigrants—and the employers who hire them.

Aaron Schrank/WPR

All day Wednesday, volunteers will be canvassing Wyoming’s homeless shelters and streets in an effort to come up with a sort of homeless census.  

The annual effort is what’s called a homeless ‘point-in-time’ count. The results are used by agencies like the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine how much funding and assistance is needed in the state.

Brenda Lyttle with the Department of Family Services is Wyoming’s homeless coordinator. She says last year, Wyoming’s count of homeless residents was about one-thousand.

Bob Beck

 In his supplemental budget request, Governor Matt Mead asked for $15 million dollars to help school districts cover inflation. But lawmakers voted Thursday not to follow that recommendation.

Casper Representative Tim Stubson proposed the cut to the Joint Appropriations Committee. With it, the state would allocate just $6 million to cover school districts’ rising costs.

The University of Wyoming has appointed a new dean for its College of Engineering. Dr. Michael Pishko, a biomedical engineering professor at Texas A&M University, will take over the job on March 1st.

The engineering school has been without a permanent dean for more than a year. Pishko takes the reigns amid a legislatively-mandated push to become a “top-tier” engineering program. That effort is backed by more than $130 million in state funds and private donations.

Wyoming Legislature

The House Education Committee voted unanimously Monday evening to advance a bill that would put the Next Generation Science Standards back on the table in Wyoming.

The bill simply removes a budget footnote passed last year that barred the State Board of Education from considering the standards.

House Speaker Kermit Brown, of Laramie, is among the bill’s co-sponsors. He says the footnote was a knee-jerk reaction by lawmakers who took issue with the standards’ treatment of global climate change and evolution.

Senator Mike Enzi (R)

Sen. Enzi Gets A Gavel - The First Accountant Ever To Chair The Budget Committee

Republicans now are the majority in both chambers in the U.S. Congress, which means they control all the gavels on Capitol Hill. Wyoming's senior senator, Mike Enzi, gets to wield one of those gavels in the all-important Budget Committee.

Aaron Schrank

Last week, Republican Jillian Balow was sworn in as Wyoming’s new Superintendent of Public Instruction. Balow is now working to rebuild the state’s Department of Education, formerly led by Cindy Hill. There are quite a few vacancies to fill and the current legislative session could shake things up for the state’s K-12 schools. Superintendent Balow spoke with Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank about the road ahead.

Mike Read

This school year, we're following the academic progress of students at Fort Washakie High School—a struggling school on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Academic achievement—like most things at the high school—is on the rise. Thanks to its recent switch from charter to public, there’s a brand new school building in the works here. And students here have just taken a step that seems small, but is key to earning Fort Washakie its stripes as a traditional high school on the reservation. They've put together a basketball team.

 As Republican Jillian Balow takes the reigns at the Wyoming Department of Education, lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment that would eliminate her position.

If the bill is passed through the Legislature, voters in 2016 would be asked if they’d like to do away with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction as an elected role. Lawmakers would be left to come up with a new structure for governing schools instead.

governor.wyo.gov/

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead delivered his State of the State address this morning before members of the Legislature in Cheyenne. Mead reflected on his first-term accomplishments and laid out his priorities for the years ahead. 

Listen to the full audio from Governor Mead's speech here:

A proposed bill would shift responsibility for reviewing charter school applications from local districts to the Wyoming Community College Commission.

Representative Sue Wilson of Cheyenne drafted the bill because she says leaving the task to school districts has made it very hard to get a charter school started.

Wyoming has just four public charter schools—three in Laramie and one in Cheyenne. Wilson says the change would allow for more diversity in education at Wyoming schools.

Key Issues Await The Wyoming Legislature

For the next two months the State’s 90 legislators will gather in Cheyenne to consider a wide range of bills. Some ideas will be dead on arrival while others should generate considerable debate.

Aaron Schrank

Income and wealth disparities in the U.S. are the most pronounced they’ve been in decades. Perhaps nowhere is the gap between luxury and poverty more apparent than in Jackson. The small ski town sits in the county with the highest average income in the country. But it’s also home to a growing number of Mexican immigrants who come to work in Jackson’s tourism economy. Teton County residents boast a median household income of $72,000, but for immigrant households, it’s just $26,000. That inequity has repercussions for Jackson's youth.

The awards given to college students under Wyoming’s Hathaway Scholarship Program have not kept up with tuition increases at the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges. Some Wyoming lawmakers support increasing the awards and are weighing their options for the upcoming legislative session—which begins next week. 

The scholarship started in 2006, and wasn’t increased at all until last year’s budget session—when lawmakers bumped it up 5 percent. 

Early next year, a Denver-based health organization will launch the very first telephone quit line specifically for American Indians looking to stop smoking tobacco. The service will be available in Wyoming and several other states. 

National Jewish Health in Denver has been operating successful telephone quitlines for more than a decade. But with quit rates flat-lining, the group has decided to target a specific demographic with its American Indian Commercial Tobacco Program.

The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee has approved a modest budget increase for the state agency responsible for building and maintaining Wyoming’s K-12 schools.

The State had given the School Facilities Department nearly $430 million dollars for school construction in 2015 and 2016. In a supplemental budget request, the agency asked for $21 million additional dollars to account for inflation, unanticipated costs and health and safety projects.

Director Bill Panos told lawmakers his agency has worked to decrease the size of its request—compared to past years.

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.

INSIDE ENERGY: Energy Job Corps Focus On Safety

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.

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