Education

WPM is committed to covering education issues in Wyoming in a thoughtful and thorough way. This main page captures all education-related stories we've aired, and updates you on broad issues.

Check out our Strengthening Education Reporting page for stories focused primarily on graduation rates and how to encourage an upward trend in education.

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 fate of the Next Generation Science Standards will soon be back in the hands of the State Board of Education.

Last year, the Legislature, through a budget amendment, blocked the state board from adopting the standards because of concerns about how they addressed climate change. 

A bill removing the budget footnote passed the House easily this year, but got hung up when Senator Eli Bebout added a last second amendment that instructed the board to adopt standards unique to Wyoming. 

Bebout says after a conference committee they came up with new language.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

A bill that would have removed gun free zones from Wyoming schools, athletic events, and government meetings has been substantially changed by the Senate Education Committee. 

The committee voted 3 to 2 to approve an amended bill that lets local school boards, college boards of trustees, and local government officials to decide if guns will be allowed within their facilities. 

Senator Hank Coe of Cody says local officials can better decide whether guns should be allowed in their jurisdiction.

After several amendments the House Education Committee approved a bill that is intended to move forward with Wyoming’s education accountability system. 

After a series of amendments by Pinedale Republican Albert Sommers the committee pushed back the next phase of the accountability process. 

Sommers says he wanted to take another look at the accountability model and give the committee addressing accountability more time.  

Stephanie Joyce

A year ago, a petroleum engineering degree seemed like the ticket to a bright and well-paid future. With six-figure starting salaries for a bachelor’s degree and endless optimism about the shale revolution, enrollment climbed rapidly in petroleum engineering programs across the country. But now that the oil price slide has turned to an oil price slump, the luster is wearing off.

When Evan Lowry first enrolled at the University of Wyoming, his plan was to be a chemical engineer, like his dad, but the oil industry was booming and he quickly changed his mind.

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. Wyoming Public Radio's Aaron Schrank spoke with Pete Gosar to get his take on the standards—and the controversy around them.​ 

The Wyoming Senate has voted to give teachers a pay increase. The external cost adjustment will be the first that teachers have received since 2009. Senator Stan Cooper says a lack of cost of living adjustments has caused problems for rural school districts who are trying to hire new teachers. 

Glenrock Republican Jim Anderson adds that the energy boom in Converse County has driven up local rent and other costs. He says that has forced teachers to relocate.

    

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.

It will take a conference committee to determine whether the State Board of Education may adopt the Next Generation Science Standards for Wyoming schools. The standards say students should learn about climate change — and last year the House passed a budget amendment barring the State Board of Education from considering the standards.  

The Wyoming House of Representative has approved a cost of living increase for teacher salaries. The amendment was part of the debate on the state supplemental budget. Called the External Cost Adjustment or ECA, it provides extra funding for districts to use for teacher pay increases. 

Pinedale Republican Albert Sommers says teachers have not received a cost of living increase since 2009, mainly due to budget concerns.

University of Wyoming

Hands-on problem solving is the aim of a new project at the University of Wyoming. “WyoMakers” gives Junior High students in Laramie access to UW students and resources to work on design projects.

Tonia Dousay is the project’s founder, and says students think about problem solving more deeply when they create something, as opposed to simply memorizing information. For example, she says designing model boats with 3D printers gives students an opportunity to look closely at building materials and dimensions in a tangible way.

The Wyoming Senate has given final approval to a bill that allows the State Board of Education to consider the Next Generation Science Standards. But the Senate also added an amendment that has some concerned. 

Senator Eli Bebout changed the bill to say that the state board may consider NGSS in addition to others in order to -- quote -- "develop quality science standards that are unique to Wyoming." 

Bebout says his amendment requires nothing, but Senate President Phil Nicholas says it implies that the state board should come up with standards unique to Wyoming.

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.

Without any debate, the Wyoming Senate gave initial support to a bill that would allow the State Board of Education to consider adopting the Next Generation Science Standards for Wyoming schools. Last year the House of Representatives added a budget footnote that kept the Board from considering the standards, in part because of concerns about how they address climate change.

The Senate never debated the issue. Senator Jim Anderson of Glenrock says removing that footnote will allow the State Board of Education to do its job.          

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.

The Wyoming House of Representatives is moving forward with legislation that would eliminate the writing assessment from the statewide testing. 

Writing and language is among the standards used to determine school performance, but Cheyenne Democrat Mary Throne says the writing and language assessment is arbitrary. Casper Republican Steve Harshman is a High School Teacher.  He says the state standards forced his school to water down its writing requirements.

Concealed guns would be allowed in schools, on college campuses, and in government meetings under a bill that will be considered by the Wyoming House of Representatives. 

The bill would repeal gun free zones and was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on an 8-1 vote. Gun supporters say the legislation could keep schools safe, but education organizations and State Superintendent Jillian Balow oppose the measure. Chris Boswell of the University of Wyoming says the bill is problematic.

The Wyoming House Education Committee has voted down a proposed Constitutional Amendment that could have led to an appointed State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The 7-2 vote to kill the bill likely ends a two year effort to remove the Superintendent as an elected state official.

Noting heavy public opposition to the bill, Encampment Republican Jerry Paxton said it’s time to stop the discussion.

The State Senate has reversed itself and passed a bill that includes a requirement that Wyoming public high school students must take four years of math. Last week the Senate voted to keep the math requirement at three years.

Cody Republican Hank Coe successfully amended the bill to allow a student to take a math related elective in their senior year. Many had argued that students who aren’t going to college don’t need an extra year of math, but Casper Republican Charlie Scott says a math elective would be valuable for that group of students.

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 Wyoming Senate has rejected an attempt to require four years of math in public high schools.  The debate came during a discussion on a bill addressing education accountability and assessment.  Currently the state requires three years of math and Senator Hank Coe says increasing it to four years will help improve education.       

“You know this is a global economy…big time.  And the United States is not getting it done and honestly we aren’t getting it done in Wyoming either.  Rigor is what we need.”

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.

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.

Melodie Edwards

There was a big surprise in the annual state rankings released by Education Week recently. Wyoming made the top 10 list for best places to get your child an education, the only state in the Western U.S. The reason is Wyoming spends more on education than any other state. But even paying $18,000 per student--50 percent higher than the national average—Wyoming’s standardized test scores are very mediocre when compared nationally.

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.

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.

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