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

The Hess Corporation announced a $15 million donation to the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources Thursday. Hess has now given a total of  $25 million to UW, making the oil and gas giant the largest corporate donor in the university’s history.

The funds will go towards construction of UW’s High Bay Research Facility—as well as equipment used in the facility and some proprietary research done there. Hess’s research will focus mostly on figuring out how to tap hard-to-reach oil and gas reservoirs.

Aaron Schrank

Fort Washakie High School is on track to graduate more students than ever this year. It still won’t be a big number, but getting a high school degree is a big deal for students at this small school on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Some are making college plans. Others are just crossing their fingers hoping to get through the rest of the school year. 

Blaze Condon was a junior last semester, but she’s earned enough credits to graduate from Fort Washakie in May. She says it felt great to break that news to her family.

Bob Beck

Governor Mead Says The Legislative Session Had Some Disappointments

A few weeks ago the Wyoming legislative session came to a close and Governor Matt Mead admitted that he had a number of concerns. The biggest was the failure of the legislature to pass Medicaid Expansion. The governor tells us that he knew it would be a tough sell, but it was tougher than he thought.

As kids across Wyoming take the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students—or PAWS—test this month, the State Board of Education is looking for input on the future of statewide testing.

With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, the state needs to decide what test it will use to gauge student learning down the line. Board member Sue Belish says lawmakers asked the State Board to play a role.

In the recent legislative session, Wyoming lawmakers voted to allow the State Board of Education to again consider the Next Generation Science Standards. In its first meeting since the session ended, the Board voted unanimously Tuesday to get back to work adopting science standards.

Last year, a committee of Wyoming science educators recommended the Next Generation Science Standards after 18 months of review. All members of that committee will be invited back to continue their work--and those who don’t return will be replaced.

Willow Belden

Some University of Wyoming professors have been traveling to fourth grade classrooms around the state in an effort to research and improve the teaching of Wyoming history.

The project combines history with art and hands-on activities. Education professors Allen Trent and Peter Moran plan to bring it to each of the state’s counties by the end of this school year.

The lesson plans and resources they use are all online for any Wyoming teacher to access. Trent says that’s important.

Wyo. Republicans Now Fighting To Preserve Obamacare Funding

One of the biggest Supreme Court cases of this term could wipe away the insurance subsidies that tens of thousands of Wyoming residents now rely on under so-called Obamacare. Matt Laslo has the story from Washington on how Wyoming Senator John Barrasso is now scrambling to find a Plan B for a law he's staked his name as a doctor opposing.  

Aaron Schrank

In most schools, campaigns to keep students from smoking use simple slogans like “Be Smart, Don’t Start,” but those targeting Native American kids are a bit different. On Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, you’re likely to hear more nuanced catchphrases like “Keep It Sacred,” and “Traditional Use, Not Commercial Abuse.”

That’s because tobacco is an indispensable part of many Native American traditions. But with sky-high smoking rates on reservations, Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports that the need to limit nontraditional tobacco use is greater than ever. 

Wyoming school districts say they are pleased that state lawmakers voted to approve inflation adjustments for school funding during the legislative session that wrapped up last week.

On Wednesday, Governor Matt Mead signed the legislation approving those cost of living adjustments for schools.

Sublette County School District One’s Superintendent Jay Harnack was part of a coalition that lobbied for the funding. State law requires these adjustments, but districts haven’t seen them in recent years. Harnack says this will allow his district to get back on track.

Funding for Wyoming afterschool programs could be on the federal chopping block.

Most afterschool programs in the state have been supported by more than $5 million in grants provided each year under the federal education law No Child Left Behind. But Congress’s current reauthorization proposals for the law would allow states to spend federal education funding however they want—with no specific money tied to afterschool programs.

Photo Courtesy Wyoming Catholic College via Facebook

Wyoming Catholic College in Lander has decided not to offer federal grants and loans to its students. It says doing so could threaten the school’s religious liberties.

Last year, the small, 8-year-old college took its first step toward accreditation. The move meant credits earned at W-C-C could be transferred to other schools—and made it eligible for federal loan programs.

But the college’s Board of Director’s voted unanimously last month not to participate in those programs—known as Title IV.

A greater percentage of Wyoming high school students graduated on time last year than the year before. That’s according to data released Wednesday by the Wyoming Department of Education.

The four-year graduation rate for the 2013-2014 school year was 78.6 percent—up from 77.5 percent the year before—and compared with 81 percent nationwide. 

  

Some Call It A Disappointing Legislative Session

The Wyoming legislative session is coming up on its last week. It’s a session that’s seen the defeat of Medicaid Expansion and some other key issues. Because of that, critics say they really haven’t accomplished much, and some legislators agree.  

Aaron Schrank

There’s a nationwide push to get more students involved in STEM education. That’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. But, despite enthusiasm—and Wyoming’s above average school funding— few K-12 schools in the state have been able to build the STEM programs they’d like. Many of those that have—have done so not with funding and support from the state—but from the energy industry. Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports.

The official child poverty rate in Wyoming—and around the country—may be too high. That’s according to a report released Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report says the measure created 50 years ago fails to account for the impacts of social programs and tax policy on poverty. It says a newer index—the Supplemental Poverty Measure—better measures the success of anti-poverty programs.

Over the past year, The Next Generation Science Standards have stirred debate in Wyoming—which continues today. Lawmakers have taken issue with what the standards say about climate change. Laramie Democrat Pete Gosar has something of a front row seat for this discussion. He’s recently been named chairman of the State Board of Education—after serving for four years on that body, which is responsible for reviewing and adopting education standards. I spoke with Pete Gosar to get his take on the standards—and the controversy around them.​ 

A group of Casper parents is looking to launch a new charter school for high-achieving kids. They're planning to submit their application to the Natrona County School District on Monday.

The proposed K-8 school is called The Guild Charter School. Backers say the school would offer individualized learning plans for each student and be more academically rigorous.

Bob Beck / Natrona County High School

This year, a University of Wyoming program that helps low-income high school students plan for college will run out of funding, but backers hope to keep it going.

The Wyoming College Advising Corps is funded by a federal grant. Last year, the program provided resources to about 400 Wyoming students.

Project Director Teresa Nealon says there are 10 full-time advisors in schools around the state, counseling students about how to prepare for college.

gosarforgovernor.com

Democrat Pete Gosar, who challenged Matt Mead in the Governor’s race last year, is the new chairman of the State Board of Education.

Gosar replaces outgoing chair Ron Micheli. Gosar says one the biggest tasks facing the board is putting new science standards in place. A bill that would allow the Board to consider the controversial Next Generation Science Standards is currently making its way through the legislature.

Wyoming Democratic Party

The executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party will resign this month. That’s according to an email sent to lawmakers and leaked to the public Tuesday.

Party Chair Ana Cuprill asked Robin Van Ausdall to step down from the position. Cuprill declined to comment explicitly on why that is, but said Van Ausdall’s leadership has served the party well and has allowed the Democrats to remain a relevant minority party.

February 6th, 2015

Feb 6, 2015
Jeremy Wilburn, Flickr Creative Commons

Climate Change In The Classroom: The Debate Continues In Wyoming

Nearly a year after Wyoming lawmakers blocked the State Board of Education from considering a set of science standards that include climate change, a bill to put the standards back on the table is up for debate. When the dust settles, it could mean a change in classroom conversations about climate.

Jeremy Wilburn, Flickr Creative Commons

Nearly a year after Wyoming lawmakers blocked the State Board of Education from considering a set of science standards that include climate change, a bill to put the standards back on the table is up for debate. When the dust settles, it could mean a change in classroom conversations about climate.

At Natrona County High School in Casper, 10th grade biology students are dropping bits of beef liver into test tubes filled with hydrogen peroxide. Today’s lesson is on enzymes, but science teacher Bryan Aivazian doesn’t spend much time lecturing.

 On Monday night, 8 high school students from around Wyoming competed in ‘Poetry Out Loud,’ an annual event that aims to get students engaged with great poetry.

Students memorize and recite works of their choosing—and are judged on their performance. This year’s winner was Arvada-Clearmont High School Senior Dylan Collins. Rebecca Delaney of Sundance and Lucy Martinez of Jackson were the runners-up.

Eighteen-year-old Collins says he might not seem like the type of guy who’d typically be interested in poetry.

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.

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