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.

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.

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.

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