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.

 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.

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. 

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.

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.

Meeteetse School Wins Science Award

Dec 12, 2014
Wyoming game and fish department

A tiny school in northwest Wyoming is a huge winner in a national science award.  In September, Meeteetse was one of four thousand schools that applied for the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest. Now, they’ve won the state contest. And are one of only 55 competitors for a $120,000 grand prize.

The tiny district has only 111 students in the entire K-12 program. 

Yet, the high school science class won the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow state contest by winning $20,000 in technology.

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.

Wyoming received a D-minus for its new teacher preparation in a new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The state ranked 49th in the nation for its education of teachers to make sure students are prepared for higher education.

Sandi Jacobs is the Council’s Vice President and Director for State Policy and says Wyoming is making some progress, but still lags behind much of the nation.

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. 

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.

Aaron Schrank

The number of students experiencing homelessness in Wyoming has gone way up in recent years, but there are few resources for homeless Wyomingites—and almost none specific to youth. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank reports, public schools are on the front lines of identifying and advocating for these vulnerable young people.

University of Wyoming

For kids who have grown up using smartphones, navigating apps like google maps is second nature to them. But a new initiative from the University of Wyoming is trying to get 5-thousand tangible, paper atlases into the hands of students in every Wyoming school district. Jeff Hamerlinck is the director of the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center and was one of the co-editors on the atlas project. He joined Wyoming Public Radio’s Caroline Ballard to discuss the project.

Angus Thuermer / WyoFile

Last week, the Board of Trustees at the University of Wyoming approved a 5 percent tuition hike for the next academic year—and 4 percent increases for each year after that. Most of that extra revenue will be used to fund employee salary increases.

Some employees and students question the move.

Faculty Senate Chair Ed Janak says the raises are much-needed, but he isn’t sure tuition hikes are the right idea.

University of Wyoming

Last year, the University of Wyoming saw many of its top-performing faculty leave the school to take jobs elsewhere. Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile.com. He wrote a story recently looking at this faculty exodus, its potential causes, its impacts—and what efforts UW is making to keep faculty around. Nickerson spoke with Wyoming Public Radio’s Aaron Schrank.

Grade inflation is a problem at teacher training programs around the country, but not so much at the University of Wyoming’s College of Education.

That’s according to a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality—a think tank that pushes for tougher evaluations of classroom teachers—called “Easy A’s And What’s Behind Them.”

The report looked at more than 500 institutions across the country and found that teacher candidates are much more likely to earn high grades and receive honors than the broad student population.

University of Wyoming

The University Of Wyoming Board Of Trustees is considering a variety of proposed tuition raises in order to retain faculty members. On Friday the board is expected to vote on two proposals. The first would increase tuition by five percent for academic year 2016. The second would allow the board to increase tuition by four percent every year for four years.

UW’s Vice President for Administration Bill Mai says the university has lost key members of its faculty in recent years due to financial concerns and has had to move money from other areas to retain current faculty.

State lawmakers this week will hear proposals to add an individual right to privacy to the Wyoming Constitution.

The Digital Information Privacy Task Force is made up of lawmakers and Wyoming citizens. Task Force Chairman Senator Chris Rothfuss says the proposed amendment would limit what information Wyoming could compile about its citizens. The goal is to ensure privacy rights aren’t ignored in service of other state interests.

Next year, state officials will visit every school building in the state to determine what safety and security upgrades need to be made. It’s part of a school safety initiative pushed by the Governor and Legislature in the wake of high-profile school shootings in other parts of the country.

The assessments will be conducted by the School Facilities Department—the state agency responsible for school construction in Wyoming. The Department’s Director, Bill Panos says the school visits will take place between January and June of 2015.

The race for Wyoming’s schools chief was expected to be a close one, but it wasn't. Republican Jillian Balow defeated Democrat Mike Ceballos in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tuesday night with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Despite his party affiliation, Ceballos earned credibility in deep-red Wyoming with his business leadership experience. He racked up a string of key endorsements, and outspent Balow during the campaign, but Ceballos says he didn’t make his case to enough people.

Wyoming Public Media

This weekend the Powder River Basin Resource Council will hold its 42nd meeting at 4 p.m.at the Sheridan Holiday Inn. The Keynote speaker is Dr. Jeffrey Lockwood, professor of Natural Sciences and Humanities at the University of Wyoming, who discuss the topic “Living Behind the Carbon Curtain: Wyoming, Energy and Censorship.”  

A political action committee representing Wyoming teachers announced Monday it has pulled its endorsement of Jillian Balow the Republican candidate for Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Wyoming Education Association’s Political Action Committee for Education—known as WEA-PACE—endorsed both Balow and her Democratic opponent Mike Ceballos before this year’s primaries.

But Balow’s rhetoric about organized labor in a recent fundraising letter caused concern among the group of educators. In the letter, Balow criticized her opponent for receiving union support.  

Leigh Paterson

Climate change is a controversial topic in this election cycle, especially when it comes to teaching it in school.  So far only 12 states have adopted a new set of science education standards that include the human impacts on global warming  - and Wyoming is not one of them.

Natalia Macker, who is running to represent District 22 in the Wyoming State House, said something shocking during our recent interview:

Aaron Schrank

Fort Washakie High School on the Wind River Indian Reservation was a charter high school until a few years ago. Now it’s a public school. Most of its classes used to be online. Now, it’s building a brick-and-mortar building for 150 students.

For now, around 50 kids and a dozen teachers make do in makeshift classrooms. The school’s last reported graduation rate was just 7 percent, but as it morphs into a more traditional high school, the current crop of students has high hopes for the future.

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