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.

Bob Beck

A downturn in the energy economy has caused a crisis in Wyoming education funding. K-12 funding is projected to see a $400 million shortfall at the end of the current two-year budget cycle.

That deficit will grow if lawmakers can’t find a way to address the shortfall, but the House and Senate are taking different approaches towards solving the problem. During an interview Senate Education Chairman Hank Coe of Cody repeated a sentence that’s become a cliché this session.

Tennessee Watson

The Wyoming State Board of Education was born 100 years ago during the 1917 Legislative Session. Wyoming Public Radio’s education reporter Tennessee Watson invited Pete Gosar to reflect on the history of the board, and his final months as Board Chair.

Appointees only get to serve one term, and Gosar said that’s part of what makes the State Board of Education an effective institution. For more on the history of the Wyoming State Board of Education visit their website.

 

University of Wyoming

The Wyoming State Board of Education is celebrating its 100th anniversary this legislature, and potentially seeing some changes in its composition.

A bill approved by the legislature recommends including the University of Wyoming President as a nonvoting ex-officio member.

State Board of Education Chair Pete Gosar welcomed the change. 

“I think for too long education has operated in silos but I’m not sure we can do that anymore. Nor should have done it in the beginning,” said Gosar. 

Tennessee Watson

Right now digital materials stored on the servers of Wyoming’s institutions of higher education do not belong to the students who create them. But a bill making its way through the Wyoming Senate would change that. 

Currently, the content in a University email sent by a student belongs to the University because it’s stored on their server, and the University can do what it want with that email. Laramie Senator Chris Rothfuss said he decided to tackle the problem because of a case involving the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Wyoming Public Media

Wyoming’s Senate Education Committee moved a bill forward today to change how teachers are evaluated. The change is also supported by school districts and teachers across the state.

House Bill 37 removes the state’s responsibility to monitor teachers and gives that power to local school districts. Wyoming Education Association spokesperson Ken Decaria said school districts and teachers around the state support the change.

State of Wyoming Legislature

An omnibus education bill passed the Wyoming House Tuesday and moved to the Senate for review.

The bill is the House of Representatives' answer to the $400 million education budget deficit. The bill proposes freezing transportation and special education funding for the 2018-2019 fiscal year to generate some savings.

Remaining gaps in funding would be covered by legislative reserves. And should the state’s rainy day account dip below $500 million, the state sales tax and the state use tax would increase a half penny.

flickr creative commons

The Wyoming Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment Friday to give the legislature the power to determine how much the state should spend on public education.  The amendment, if supported by the public, would diminish the power of the courts.

Laramie Senator Chris Rothfuss said he voted against Senate Joint Resolution nine because it would adversely change the nature of the relationship between the courts and the legislature.

pixabay

An Omnibus Education Bill received initial approval by the Wyoming House of Representatives Friday, but not before a heated tax debate. The House rejected a proposed 2-percent tax increase that was part of the bill and instead approved a half penny tax that kicks in when the rainy day fund falls below $500 million dollars.

Encampment Representative Jerry Paxton supported the larger of the two tax increases and said the state needs to act now to produce more revenue.

The Cathedral Home

Out-of-school suspension is increasingly seen as a contributing factor to poor academic outcomes. Students get sent home and get behind in their school work, and some never catch up. In response, schools across the nation, including several in Wyoming, have created alternatives. One of them is the Albany County Expelled and Suspended Program, mostly commonly referred to as ACES. 

The Wyoming Legislature

The Senate Education Committee is continuing to work on Senate File 165 that proposes a number of reductions to school funding. The measure is one of several being considered as the legislature looks to make up a $400 million shortfall in K-12 funding.

Among the bill’s proposals, it would freeze special education funding and offer early retirement to teachers within five years of retiring. The committee has heard over five and half hours of public input.

Tennessee Watson

The House Education Committee discussed their proposed omnibus education bill to a packed auditorium at Cheyenne East High School Monday evening.

A steady line of school administrators, teachers, school board members and parents made comments on the proposed budget cuts.

Many people raised concerns about the bill’s overreach. Rather than having the legislature determine how cuts should be made, multiple superintendents said they would prefer a percent cut across the board, giving control to districts and local school boards to decide how to tighten budgets.

University of Wyoming

In a statement, University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols affirmed the university’s support of its international students and employees. Her comments came after President Donald Trump signed an executive order to temporarily bar citizens and refugees from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.

What do you think about having states decide important education decisions instead of the federal government? 

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On the list of recommendations to reduce Wyoming’s education budget deficit is a cap on special education funding. That means moving forward, districts that need to spend more than their allocated budget will need to cover those additional costs on their own.

Bob Beck

In an effort to bring more young people to the state, Speaker of the House Steve Harshman wants to expand the Hathaway Scholarship to out of state students.

To qualify, a student will need a cumulative grand point average of 3.75 and be in the 96 percentile on either the SAT or ACT. The catch is that students must repay the scholarship either by working in the state or by paying out of pocket after they graduate. Harshman said that he believes if students come here, they will want to stay and that will help the economy.    

The House Education Committee has given approval to a bill that would set up a group of legislators and citizens to find solutions for solving the public education shortfall.

Speaker of the House Steve Harshman says the legislation is a fall back in case other reform measures are defeated. He says the goal is to come up with a thoughtful solution.

To do a reasonable, comprehensive solution that I think where most people in Wyoming where you sit down and have a cup of coffee with in Wyoming would say, that sounds reasonable to me.”

The House Education Committee will welcome public comments on the Omnibus Education Bill on Monday at 6 p.m.

In anticipation of a large turnout, Representative David Northrup requested the meeting take place at the Cheyenne East High School Auditorium.

He said it’s because: “We anticipate having a lot of district personnel show up and ask questions. I am probably expecting 300 to 400 people.”

This exceeds the capacity of legislature’s temporary home in the Jonah Building.

Melodie Edwards

The Wyoming House of Representatives has started working on a bill that is intended to better help social studies teachers teach about the Tribes on the Wind River Reservation. 

The legislation provides the resources so that teachers across the state help students learn a number of things about the tribes and Native Americans. Some have expressed concern that it could burden already overworked teachers, House Floor Leader David Miller says it won’t.

Environmental Protection Agency

The Wyoming Department of Education encouraged schools across the state to test for lead.

A memo sent out earlier this month informed superintendents and principals of a program offered by the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s called the 3T Program — for training, testing and telling — and it’s designed to support schools in monitoring and keeping lead in drinking water at minimal levels.

Wyoming Legislature

A Wyoming Senate committee voted down a bill today that would have prevented Wyoming school districts from using education funds to sue the state over budget cuts. The Senate Education Committee voted three to two against Senate File 135.

Sheridan Senator Bruce Burns sponsored the bill and said it would not keep districts from suing the state, but would keep state funds from financing such litigation.

Laramie Senator Chris Rothfuss voted against the bill. He said sometimes courts need to resolve differences between entities.

Wyoming Legislature

The Wyoming House of Representatives has started debating a bill that will change how teachers are evaluated.   

The teacher accountability bill takes the state out of monitoring teachers and gives that power to local school districts. The change is supported by school districts and teachers.

Pinedale Representative Albert Sommers says having locals evaluate teachers is a much better approach.     

pixabay

The Wyoming Legislature’s House Education Committee moved a bill forward to end the foreign language requirement for kindergarten through second grade students.

The requirement is currently an unfunded mandate. Evanston Representative Garry Piiparinen said the best approach to foreign language is a dual-immersion system where students are exposed consistently, and that the current requirement forces teachers to give up time they could use more productively. 

Tennessee Watson

Senate File 35 - the Virtual Education Bill - would help improve virtual learning in Wyoming schools, especially in rural areas where hiring teachers in specialized fields can be hard. Districts across the state are already experimenting with online courses, but the Department of Education wants to bring this opportunity to all students. In Rock Springs, Black Butte High School has been blazing ahead.

Wyoming Department of Education

School districts that temporarily borrow funds from the state may no longer face high interest rates. A bill to remove a 6 percent interest rate on money borrowed from the state’s Common School Fund passed the Wyoming House and is now before the Senate.  

Wyoming Department of Education

High school graduation rates in Wyoming have crept upward since 2012, according to a press release from the education department.

In 2016, 80 percent of students graduated within four years. That’s higher than the state’s rate has been in a while, but still falls short of last year’s national average of eighty-three percent.

State Superintendent Jillian Balow says that although the state has more work to do, these incremental gains are worth celebrating.

Wikipedia

The Wyoming Constitution mandates that the legislature provide for public schools and present a balanced state budget, which puts legislators in a tight position this session as they contend with a $400 million shortfall in the education budget.

To help address the funding crisis and keep the state out of court, the House Education Committee invited Michael O’Donnell, the State’s Council for School Finance, to present at a special information session.

Photo Courtesy of University of Wyoming

Wyoming is facing big questions about how to sustain the current education funding model, and that may cause uncertainty for educators entering the workforce. Almost half of Wyoming teachers graduate from the University of Wyoming, and a new partnership with the Daniels Fund will shed light on how well the College of Education prepares those teachers. Wyoming Public Radio’s Tennessee Watson spoke with Rebecca Watts, the executive director of The Trustees Education Initiative, about what this partnership means for learning in Wyoming.

Free Stock Photos

The Wyoming Senate has starting working on a bill that is intended to clarify a student's digital privacy. Senate File 20 would prohibit an officer or employee of a school district from accessing a current or prospective student’s digital accounts – like their personal email or Facebook. 

It also prevents a student from being punished for not divulging such information. The legislature defeated a similar bill last year. 

Proponents say the bill protects students’ rights to privacy.

How Wyoming holds its teachers, principals and school district leaders accountable is up for discussion this legislative session. House Bill 37 amends how teachers are held accountable, while Senate File 36 focuses on administrator accountability.

Under the proposed accountability system, data reviewed by the state will tie student performance only to school buildings and districts, and not to individual teachers. Data connecting student performance to teacher performance will then only be evaluated at the local level. 

Department of Education

During his State of the State address Wednesday, Governor Matt Mead asked the Wyoming legislature to broaden the public discussion for the education budget.

Public school funding is estimated to fall around $400 million dollars short. Governor Mead said the legislature needs to act quickly to try to solve the shortfall, while also slowing down so that the public can better participate in decision making.

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