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Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Encourages Parents To Reject Critical Race Theory

in News/Education
13384

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The chairman of Wyoming’s Republican Party is urging parents and others to contact their local school boards and elected officials to protest the teaching of critical race theory in schools.

In the party’s “Chairman’s Update” released Wednesday, Frank Eathorne discussed critical race theory, calling it a dangerous agenda being pushed in schools.

“The youngest members of our society deserve attention, consideration, and protection when it comes to public policy. They should not be political pawns,” Eathorne said. “You’ve probably heard the term Critical Race Theory in the news. You may, or may not, understand the nuances and dangers lurking in this new agenda being pushed on our children and grandchildren.”

He also linked to an opinion piece penned in the free monthly speech digest “Imprimis” from the conservative private school Hillsdale College about CRT from public policy researcher Christopher F. Rufo, which said the theory was closely related to Marxism and describing how it could be battled.

“Consider the future of your family and community. Is CRT good for the future of Wyoming and America? The time to act is now!” Eathorne said. “Let your local school boards and other elected officials know this is not the path we wish to take in the educating of our youngest minds.”

“Our children are treasures! Don’t let them be taught to view the world through the lens of skin color,” Eathorne concluded. “Call or write your elected officials and tell them this is a NO GO!”

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

Last week, Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, was joined by Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow at a press conference in the Wyoming State Capitol to announce his proposed Civics Transparency Act, which he plans to introduce during the next legislative session in the spring.

The bill is currently in draft form with the Legislative Service Office.

The legislation would require a publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state and modify the requirements for teaching about the state and federal constitutions.

The Wyoming Education Association expressed concern this week about the bill’s potential consequences.

“The Wyoming Education Association supports transparency in education, which is at the core of this proposed legislation,” President Grady Hutcherson said in a written statement to the Gillette News Record. “WEA welcomes parents and communities in their right to be collaborative partners in students’ education.

“However, we do have concerns about the potential unintended consequences this draft legislation could have for education employees, districts, and — most importantly — students,” he said.

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Wyoming Education Association Concerned About Critical Race Theory Bill’s Consequences

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13342


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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Education Association expressed concern this week about the potential consequences of a recently proposed bill regarding critical race theory.

“The Wyoming Education Association supports transparency in education, which is at the core of this proposed legislation,” President Grady Hutcherson said in a written statement to the Gillette News Record. “WEA welcomes parents and communities in their right to be collaborative partners in students’ education.

“However, we do have concerns about the potential unintended consequences this draft legislation could have for education employees, districts, and — most importantly — students,” he said.

WEA spokeswoman Amanda Turner did not return Cowboy State Daily’s requests for comment on Tuesday.

Last week, Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, was joined by Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow at a press conference in the Wyoming State Capitol to announce his proposed Civics Transparency Act, which he plans to introduce during the next legislative session in the spring.

The bill is currently in draft form with the Legislative Service Office.

“This draft legislation is the perfect example of a problem we see time and again here in Wyoming,” Hutcherson said. “The legislation reflects a lack of understanding about what’s practical in Wyoming classrooms.

“Being overly prescriptive by attempting to legislate strict adherence to cataloging all materials used to support lessons is unrealistic and burdensome red tape and takes away quality teaching time with students,” Hutcherson continued. “That expectation would strip education professionals of the creativity and adaptation necessary to teach.”

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

The legislation would require a publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state and modify the requirements for teaching about the state and federal constitutions.

“Anything that’s going on in a classroom will be posted on a website so that you, as the public and as the parents, have the ability to see what’s being taught to your kids and what the curriculum is,” Driskill said. “So if they’re bringing in guest speakers, someone from out of the state or country that doesn’t fit, there is a chance for everyone to see.”

Driskill added that the bill highlighted portions of the Wyoming Constitution that focuses on equality for all, no matter a person’s race.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education proposed priorities for American history and civics education grant programs which include encouraging districts to use curriculum related to the New York Times’ 1619 Project (a journalism project that focuses on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans), critical race theory and the work of anti-racism activist and author Ibram X. Kendi.

Driskill said his bill gives “parents the tools to know what is being taught in their children’s classrooms and prevents the indoctrination found in the critical race theory curriculum that has been pushed by the far-left and has found its way into some classrooms.”

Driskill, Dockstader and Balow repeatedly said the bill is not intended to block the teaching of critical race theory, but to allow for transparency on what is being taught.

Balow, who has been a noted opponent of critical race theory, said that the theory itself likely wasn’t being taught in Wyoming’s K-12 schools at this point, but certain elements of the curriculum were.

“There are classrooms in the state that have discussed CRT-related topics such as white oppressions, systemic racism and white privilege,” she said. “I’ve even seen class notes that not only reference Marxist revolution…that lead students to make conclusions that support Marxism in the absence of any comparison to other theories or concepts.”

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Driskill To Introduce Legislation Combating Critical Race Theory In Wyoming Schools

in News/Education
13245

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Wyoming legislator announced on Friday that he will be introducing legislation to combat the teaching of critical race theory, with the support of Wyoming’s top education official.

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, was joined by Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow at a press conference in the Wyoming State Capitol to announce his forthcoming Civics Transparency Act that he will introduce during the next legislative session in the spring. The bill is currently in draft form with the Legislative Service Office.

The legislation would require a publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state and modify the requirements for instruction of state and federal constitutions.

“Anything that’s going on in a classroom will be posted on a website so that you, as the public and as the parents, have the ability to see what’s being taught to your kids and what the curriculum is,” Driskill said. “So if they’re bringing in guest speakers, someone from out of the state or country that doesn’t fit, there is a chance for everyone to see.”

He added that the bill highlighted portions of the Wyoming Constitution that focuses on equality for all, no matter a person’s race.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education proposed priorities for American history and civics education grant programs which include encouraging districts to use curriculum related to the New York Times’ 1619 Project (a journalism project that focuses on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans), critical race theory and the work of anti-racism activist and author Ibram X. Kendi.

Critical race theory is described as some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

Driskill said his bill gives “parents the tools to know what is being taught in their children’s classrooms and prevents the indoctrination found in the critical race theory curriculum that has been pushed by the far-left and has found its way into some classrooms.”

However, Driskill, Dockstader and Balow repeatedly said this bill is not intended to block the teaching of critical race theory, but to allow for transparency on what is being taught.

Balow, who has been a noted opponent of critical race theory, also noted that the literal theory likely wasn’t being taught in Wyoming’s K-12 schools, but certain elements on the curriculum was.

“There are classrooms in the state that have discussed CRT-related topics such as white oppressions, systemic racism and white privilege,” she said. “I’ve even seen class notes that not only reference Marxist revolution…that lead students to make conclusions that support Marxism in the absence of any comparison to other theories or concepts.”

She added that the bill doesn’t steer educators away from difficult topics such as slavery or the mistreatment of certain groups in the United States.

“It is my hope that this bill is the beginning of a roadmap that helps us ensure that every student has access to the best civics and history education,” she said. “I believe that this bill will be a national model for other states to follow.”

She concluded that the most important topic in the bill was that the taxpayers, parents and school board members were more empowered and there would be accountability in Wyoming’s schools.

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Laramie County School District Says No To Mask Mandate

in News/Coronavirus/Education
12663

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

After a contentious board of trustees meeting on Monday night, Cheyenne school officials have decided to strongly recommend, but not require, the use of facemasks once the school year begins next week.

The official decision was made late Thursday, with Margaret Crespo, superintendent of Laramie County School District No. 1, sending out a letter to parents about the recommendation.

Students are recommended to wear masks when they can’t be distanced a certain amount (6 feet during athletics and activities, 4 feet when seated in the lunchroom and 3 feet when in the classroom). They will be required to wear masks while on school buses, which is a federal mandate.

“Bullying based on mask choice will not be tolerated and will be handled according to our discipline matrix,” the letter said.

Parents were told to monitor their children for COVID-19 symptoms and keep them home if they are sick.

Discussions about a mask requirement grew heated during the board of trustees meeting Monday, with some people even calling school officials “criminals” and “child abusers.” Some people were even harassed by fellow audience members for supporting a mask requirement.

No other school districts in Wyoming have adopted a mask mandate. However, the University of Wyoming is requiring students, staff and faculty to wear masks until at least Sept. 20.

The announcement by Cheyenne schools comes just days after Gov. Mark Gordon reaffirmed to reporters that he wouldn’t be implementing another mask mandate like he did, albeit reluctantly, last December.

“I think it’s advisable to wear masks, but there are those who feel very strongly that masks are not the appropriate measure to take,” he said. 

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Wyoming Health Dept: Starting Friday, Masks Will Be Optional in Casper Schools

in News/Coronavirus/Education
10813

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

In the waning days of the school year, Casper schools have been granted a variance from the state’s public school mask mandate by the Wyoming Department of Health.

Officials with Natrona County School District No. 1 requested the variance on Monday and it was approved Thursday. As of Friday, masks will be optional for all students, staff and school visitors while on district premises.

Face coverings must still be worn on all district transportation service vehicles, which is a federal order for all schools.

All of the schools will continue to have a masking requirement in and around a designated nursing station.

“Bullying, intimidation, shaming, or harassment of any kind by any individual regarding a person’s choice to wear or not wear a face covering will NOT be tolerated,” the district said in an announcement Thursday.

Students and staff will also be required to wear a mask or face covering while visiting another school or event outside of the district if they are asked to do so.

This is the largest school district in the state to receive a mask variance, following in the footsteps of other Wyoming school districts such as Sweetwater, Goshen and Park counties. Most have reported success from this move, but around 100 people recently had to be quarantined in Sheridan County following the removal of their mask policy.

Natrona County had 25 active coronavirus cases as of Thursday.

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Report: Wyoming’s Teachers Least Underpaid In Nation

in News/Education
10747

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

While teachers across the country might be underpaid when compared to other professions, a report from the Economic Policy Institute showed that Wyoming’s teachers are the least underpaid.

A statistic from the EPI’s September 2020 report that shows public school teachers make about 20% less than college graduates who are not teachers has been making the rounds on social media lately.

However, the report also showed that Wyoming’s teachers are paid better than most, with their salaries falling below those of non-teachers by about 2%, a fact that was noted by many social media users.

The Wyoming Department of Education was grateful that people took notice of the better pay for teachers in the state.

“It is wonderful to see Wyoming recognized for placing an emphasis on funding teachers,” Wyoming Department of Education spokeswoman Linda Finnerty told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “As we continue to explore the future of education funding in Wyoming, Superintendent Balow will continue to advocate for prioritizing our dollars on teachers and their classrooms.”

Some states, such as Arizona and Virginia, pay their teachers more than 30% less than what other college graduates are earning.

Rhode Island and New Jersey followed behind in Wyoming in paying their teachers the best.

Funding for the state’s teachers and schools became an issue this year, however, with news that Wyoming’s K-12 Education School Foundation Program is facing a $250 million annual structural deficit and the School Capital Construction Account (SCCA) faces a $50 million annual shortfall.

Most of the money for Wyoming’s schools comes from property taxes and a disproportionate amount of those taxes have been paid in the past by the state’s mineral industry. Legislators this year tried unsuccessfully to bridge the gap between income and expenses in the state’s schools but were unable to do so, leaving the shortfall to be covered by a $331 million transfer from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund.”

State Reps. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment, Steve Harshman, R-Casper, and Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, in an opinion piece published by Cowboy State Daily, noted the state must come up with solution to the shortfalls in education funding.

“Wyoming should continue to look for efficiencies in funding K-12 education,” the representatives said. “It is imperative that Wyoming continue to examine its K-12 educational program to remain relevant in an ever-changing world.”

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Opinion: The Legislature, Education, And Closing the Coal Gap

in News/Education
10673

By Rep. Albert Sommers, Rep. Jerry Paxton, Rep. Steve Harshman, Rep. Landon Brown, guest column

Several news articles have appeared recently about the Wyoming Legislature’s failure this past session to solve the K12 education funding shortfall. Due to the lack of legislative action, Governor Gordon is developing a committee to review K12 education, and to develop a “customer based” approach.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow’s April 30 op-ed in the Casper Star-Tribune suggests a committee should develop a five-year plan for education funding. Superintendent Balow believes that the K12 “basket of goods” should be updated, and that Wyoming needs “a newer version of our K12 system that teaches for a 21st Century economy and is fiscally sustainable.”

Is our educational system not competitive with other states? Is it not adequately educating Wyoming’s children Based upon a compilation of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, the nation’s report card, in 2019 Wyoming ranked 4th, behind only Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New Hampshire.

In 2017, the Legislature hired Augenblick, Palaich and Associates (APA) to review and compare Wyoming’s educational program (“basket of goods”) and its standards with those of other states. According to APA, “Wyoming’s Education Program is well aligned in most content areas with regional and high performing comparison states.”

Some believe that if we reduce our “basket of goods” we can reduce expenditures on education, without repercussions from the courts.

Our “basket of goods” consists of the following content areas: Reading/language arts; Social studies; Mathematics, Science; Fine arts and performing arts; Physical education; Health and safety; Humanities; Career/Vocational education, Foreign cultures and languages, Government and civics (including state and federal constitutions); and Computer science.

Which of these educational opportunities should we eliminate for Wyoming’s children, and would it save the state any money?

Wyoming’s K-12 Education School Foundation Program (SFP) is facing a $250 million annual structural deficit, and the School Capital Construction Account (SCCA) faces a $50 million annual shortfall.

Wyoming is like other states; we fund our schools with property taxes. The difference in Wyoming is that minerals pay half of our property taxes. Specifically, coal production has declined in the last ten years from 450 million tons per year to just over 200 million tons, which is a loss of nearly $400 million in state revenues.

To close the “coal gap,” the State must create new revenues (taxes), redirect current funding streams, or reduce spending. The common-sense approach would be a combination of these.

The Wyoming Constitution requires the Legislature to fund an equitable education “adequate to the proper instruction of all youth in the state.”

Due to failed negotiations on the last day of the session, Wyoming’s schools will require a $331 million transfer from the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA), the state’s “rainy day” fund, to maintain operations.

To close the K12 structural shortfall, the Wyoming House of Representatives passed House Bill 173 by a 41-19 vote. HB173 leveraged spending reductions, revenue flows that are headed to savings, federal stimulus funding and a half-percent sales tax for education, triggered only if state reserves were to fall below a critical level. House Bill 173 would have solved about 85% of the K12 SFP funding gap.

Wyoming should continue to look for efficiencies in funding K12 education. It is imperative that Wyoming continue to examine its K12 educational program to remain relevant in an ever-changing world.

However, Wyoming has lost 250 million tons of coal production per year and the taxes generated from it. Wyoming needs a comprehensive solution to education funding that includes reduced spending, redirecting existing revenue flows, and new revenues.

Sincerely,

Albert Sommers
Wyoming House of Representatives
House District #20

Jerry Paxton
Wyoming House of Representatives
House District #47

Steve Harshman
Wyoming House of Representatives
House District #37

Landon Brown
Wyoming House of Representatives
House District #9

Wyoming GOP Praises Balow For Saying No To Critical Race Theory

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Republican Party is praising Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow’s for her position against teaching critical race theory in schools.

The organization thanked Balow late Wednesday for her pushback against a federal proposal to teach certain controversial topics in history and civics classes, applauding her for listening to the people of Wyoming and “standing in the gap for Republican values.”

“In this decision, Balow represents the will of the majority of Wyomingites and Americans. We love our country and our heritage,” the party said in a statement. “Programs like the 1619 Project and CRT seek to destroy America’s moral fiber and promote falsehoods about the founding of our nation.”

The U.S. Department of Education recently proposed priorities for American history and civics education grant programs which include encouraging districts to use curriculum related to the New York Times 1619 Project (a journalism project that focuses on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans), critical race theory and the work of anti-racism activist and author Ibram X. Kendi.

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

Balow called this an “alarming move” on Tuesday and said it should be rebuked across party lines.

“The draft rule is an attempt to normalize teaching controversial and politically trendy theories about America’s history. History and civics should not be secondary to political whim,” she said. “Instead, history and civics instruction should engage students in objective, non-partisan analyses of historical and current events.

The Republican Party encouraged superintendents in other states to follow in Balow’s example.

While Balow agreed that America needed to update and renew its expectations for teaching and learning about history and civics, she countered that every school board, state legislature and state superintendent should work to build a local consensus about what should be taught and what materials should be used in classrooms.

“Every family should be engaged in activities that ensure the rising generation is properly prepared to be informed citizens,” Baow said. “Every student deserves a rich and engaging education about America’s triumphs, treacheries, losses, and victories. Our touchstone is our shared principle that all Americans have infinite value and individual freedom and responsibility. We must strive to find common goals and values as a nation, not tear each other and our country apart.”

Last week, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a bill that outlawed state teachers from instructing students on critical race theory and other “social justice” issues.

The proposed federal rule on these new educational priorities is open for public comment until May 19.

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Balow Says No To Teaching Critical Race Theory in Wyoming Classrooms

in News/Education
10546

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow is pushing back against proposed federal priorities for schools to teach the theory that racism is an ingrained part of American life.

The U.S. Department of Education recently proposed priorities for American history and civics education grant programs which include encouraging districts to use curriculum related to the New York Times 1619 Project (a journalism project that focuses on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans), critical race theory and the work of anti-racism activist and author Ibram X. Kendi.

Critical race theory is described as some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

Balow called this an “alarming move” on Tuesday and said it should be rebuked across party lines.

“The draft rule is an attempt to normalize teaching controversial and politically trendy theories about America’s history. History and civics should not be secondary to political whim,” she said. “Instead, history and civics instruction should engage students in objective, non-partisan analyses of historical and current events.

“For good reason, public schools do not promote particular political ideologies or religions over others,” she continued. “This federal rule attempts to break from that practice and use taxpayer dollars to do just that.”

While Balow agreed that America needed to update and renew its expectations for teaching and learning about history and civics, she countered that every school board, state legislature and state superintendent should work to build a local consensus about what should be taught and what materials should be used in classrooms.

“Every family should be engaged in activities that ensure the rising generation is properly prepared to be informed citizens,” Baow said. “Every student deserves a rich and engaging education about America’s triumphs, treacheries, losses, and victories. Our touchstone is our shared principle that all Americans have infinite value and individual freedom and responsibility. We must strive to find common goals and values as a nation, not tear each other and our country apart.”

Last week, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a bill that outlawed state teachers to instruct on critical race theory and other “social justice” issues.

The proposed federal rule on these new educational priorities is open for public comment until May 19.

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Bill Proposing New Sales Tax For Schools Moves to Wyoming Senate

in News/Taxes/Education
9596

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

One down, one to go.

A pair of bills proposing increases in the statewide sales tax being debated in the Wyoming House of Representatives saw divided fortunes Tuesday.

Each proposed a statewide sales tax, one to benefit schools and the other to benefit local governments.

But the bill that backers said would have provided a stable funding source for cities and counties through a new sales tax died on a vote of 10-50, while the bill that would help fund schools around Wyoming lives on.

House Bill 173, which lays out a formula for funding the state’s schools, would allow a one-half cent sales tax to be imposed statewide that would help reduce the $300 million deficit currently facing Wyoming schools – but only if the state’s reserve account falls below $650 million.

Brian Farmer, executive director for the Wyoming School Boards Association, said the tax included in the education bill seeks to offset the downturn in the mineral industry revenues that have historically funded education in the state.

“We know that for the last 12 to 15 years we’ve been incredibly heavily reliant on the mineral industry,” he pointed out. “But as the landscape changes, as the mineral economy is changing, the state is probably in need of reviewing its revenue sources. Our traditional revenue sources are not what they used to be; our expenditures maintain, and they do grow because of inflation.”

But the bill doesn’t just propose an increase in taxes. 

“It involves cuts,” he said. “Looking at where might we be able to make reductions that would have the least impact to classrooms and school districts.”

But he said, make no mistake about it, cuts mean job losses.

“When 85% of (a school’s) budget is tied up in people, there really just is nowhere to keep that entirely away from impacting people,” Farmer said. “If you have cuts that are in the neighborhood of 10%, you will be seeing job losses within school districts.”

Farmer pointed out that in every community, school districts are among the top three employers – and if teachers lose their jobs, they are likely to move out of those communities rather than find a job in another field. That means fewer dollars circulating in Wyoming communities.

He added that revenue transfers are also addressed in the bill – diverting some income for the state’s savings accounts to current education needs.

Farmer explained that if imposed, the sales tax could generate around $80 million each biennium. 

“So, that new revenue, combined with some cuts, combined with some revenue transfers, really goes a long way to plugging that $300 million hole,” he said.

He added he is hopeful that Wyoming’s historic high regard for education will sway legislators to support additional funding for schools.

“From the beginning of our territorial days, Gov. Campbell, the very first Governor of Wyoming, called education ‘the cornerstone of the new state,’” he said. “So from the very beginning, we’ve gone forward and built an education system that’s an envy of the nation.”

“And if we lose that, we threaten the quality of education, we threaten the very economy of Wyoming,” he added.

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