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

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.

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.

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