Tag archive

Wyoming Department of Education

Plan to Reduce Money for Student Transportation to Buses Rejected

in News/Education

By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

A plan that could have potentially halved the reimbursement to parents who drive their children to and from distant bus stops has been rejected by the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE).

The WDE, in a policy memo, said it would continue to reimburse parents for all four legs of a trip to take their children to bus stops before school and pick them up after.

“The Wyoming Department of Education will reimburse transportation claims for up to two round-trips per day,” WDE Chief of Staff Dicky Shanor wrote in the memo to school superintendents, principals and transportation directors. “This interpretation (of Wyoming state law) will take effect immediately for all claims submitted on Nov. 18, 2019, and thereafter.”

The policy provides reimbursement for parents, who in effect, act as the school bus for their children, providing transportation for students that school districts would otherwise be providing if schools could access remote rural areas.

Shanor confirmed the policy interpretation change in an interview with the Cowboy State Daily this week. 

“We decided to interpret it more favorably for the parents,” he said. “The whole goal is to provide the best transportation options for students. If a parent is making that round trip twice daily, it seems more prudent to allow for full reimbursement for parents to get their students where they need to be to get to school.”

Wyoming State Statute 21-4-401 states that school districts “shall provide transportation for isolated students when it is in the best interests of these students to provide transportation to existing schools, instead of establishing a new school for them.”

During the 2017-18 school year, WDE reimbursed Wyoming school districts $480,111 – $449,151 for mileage reimbursement and $30,960 for maintenance costs – for following the state’s policy isolation/maintenance payments to rural parents.

School districts with the highest student isolation/maintenance state reimbursements in the 2017-18 school year included Crook County No. 1 (Sundance/Hulett/Moorcroft), $92,699; Converse County No. 1 (Douglas), $48,543;  Natrona No. 1 (Casper), $46,968; Albany No. 1 (Laramie), $42,363, and Teton No. 1 (Jackson), $32,611.

A policy change occurred last summer when the Education Department formed a committee to review its rules. The change effectively reduced reimbursements to parents from two daily round trips to the bus stop to one round trip per day.

When the change occurred, Shanor said the justification was based on students themselves making just one trip per day — school and back home.

With that interpretation, mileage traveled by parents after dropping children off or before picking them up was not being reimbursed.

However, members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee agreed last fall that the law, in their view, was intended to provide for reimbursement for two round trips each day, and the committee requested that the WDE review the law and address the rules for isolation/maintenance reimbursements.

Shanor said WDE concurred with the legislative committee after reviewing state law and its policy, and since Nov. 18, parents making two round trips a day are being reimbursed.

“These parents are helping with the education of their children, especially in these rural areas,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Ray Peterson is back, hoping lawmakers will heed his calls for ed funding cuts

in News/Education
Education funding

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

A former state senator who was ousted from the Legislature after sponsoring a bill that threatened to cut education funding is doubling down, saying more money needs to be cut.

Ray Peterson of Cowley said he was alarmed when he learned the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee recommended a $19 million education “external cost adjustment” — a boost to allow school funding to keep up with inflation. Weeks later, Gov. Mark Gordon also recommended an education adjustment of $19 million in 2020, and $19 million for the following year. 

“My concern is it’s not sustainable with the downturn in coal,” Peterson, a Republican who lost re-election in 2018, said in an interview. “That’s where a lot of our education funding comes from: Coal, oil and gas.”

So now he’s speaking out. No longer in the Legislature, he said he wants to start a discussion, hoping lawmakers will be empowered by his talking points. 

“I hope my defeat is not used as a poster child.” he said. “These decisions are hard.”

Nevertheless, the Wyoming Education Association says Peterson’s views are outside the norm and may not pass constitutional muster. The WEA points to a 2017 Public Opinion Strategies poll it commissioned that found 78 percent of registered voters agreed with the statement: “Even with the tough budget situation, funding for K-12 grade schools in the state should NOT be cut.”

And while Peterson questioned education salaries and spending compared to Wyoming’s neighbors, WEA President Kathy Vetter noted in Education Week’s report card, Quality Counts 2019, that the state ranked sixth nationally in education – higher than all five of its neighbors. 

2018 session bill

Education became a central topic in Peterson’s 2018 re-election primary after he sponsored a bill  designed to prevent districts from squirreling away large cash reserves for construction, he said. After several amendments, the cut to Wyoming schools would have been around $40 million, Peterson said, but it was shelved as other school funding measures were working through the legislative process. 

Components of Peterson’s bill were folded into another piece of legislation that cut education by around $29 million — and that bill passed. 

Less than six months later, Peterson – who had served since 2004 and chaired the Senate Revenue Committee — lost re-election to R.J. Kost, a Republican who retired from a long education career. 

This round

This time around, Peterson is offering a graph that he said charts 40 years of education funding in Wyoming — and an overall spending increase of 400 percent.  

If inflation was kept closer to the Consumer Price Index, he said the increase should only be around 120 percent.

Peterson acknowledged some of that increase occurred when legislators decades ago decided to direct more cash toward schools. Money also was distributed from the state to equalize funding among school districts after a series of Wyoming Supreme Court decisions that funding must be uniform. 

He also said some of the education funding increases were a deliberate decision by the Legislature to offer attractive salaries to lure and keep teachers in the state.  

But now Peterson thinks enough is enough. He thinks cuts could be constitutional if they were applied in a manner in which no school district disproportionately suffered. 

“My concern is it’s a runaway freight train and nobody’s tapping the brakes,” he said. 

The constant increases in school funding come at the expense of other state programs, he said, since the state revenue pie is shrinking. 

Possible constitutional issues

However, Vetter, the WEA president, said in an email that in one of the Supreme Court’s education funding decisions, it ruled the Legislature must fund education “adequately and equitably” before anything else. 

The proposal for a $38 million spending increase in the first year of the coming biennium just barely meets the minimum recommendation for education funding set by the Joint Education Committee, Vetter said. 

“The Legislature has established a funding model that meets the constitutional guarantee,” she said. “Gov. Gordon’s budget proposal honors Wyoming students’ constitutionally protected, fundamental right to an equitable, high-quality education.”

Vetter doesn’t deny these are challenging times for the state’s economy, and that other parts of the state budget are suffering. But the Legislature has constitutional obligations.

“Sacrificing on education means sacrificing Wyoming’s future,” she said. 

Computer standards to get another look in Riverton meeting

in News/Education
Wyoming computer science standards in K-12 education

By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Eric Trowbridge understands the importance of a computer science education.

As chief executive officer of The Array School of Design & Technology, a private school in Cheyenne, he oversees a computer training program that includes teaching web development and coding for students 17 years and older. 

“It’s not a question of how important it is to the future; it is the future,” Trowbridge said of computer technology. “Every bit of the future for Wyoming is going to require computer science skills. If you do not know 20 to 25 years from now how to talk to computers, how to write code, you will not have a job.  Plain and simple.”

A big step toward this future will occur at 8 a.m. April 25, when the State Board of Education considers Wyoming’s draft K-12 computer science standards during its meeting in Riverton, he said. 

“Adopting the standards will put Wyoming at the top of all states for developing such a K-12 program in computer science,” Trowbridge said. 

Wyoming is believed to be the first state to have such standards. Standards were developed after the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill in 2018 to require all public schools to offer a computer science education to K-12 students by the 2022-23 school year. They must be ready for implementation.

The Legislature’s action is a “leapfrog moment,” Trowbridge said. “Wyoming has been so far behind in (computer education); to jump ahead is a pioneering (move) that no one else has done before. We’re no longer the caboose.”

The Wyoming Department of Education organized a Standards Review Committee about a year ago in response to the legislation. The committee, made up of educators statewide, developed content and performance standards, which outline what to teach in each grade.

When the Education Department presented proposed standards to the Wyoming State Board of Education for approval at a meeting on March 21, the day ended with the standards left in limbo. While many who attended supported the standards, many others, notably other educators, took exception to the proposal and said the standards were too complex and would overwhelm overburdened teachers.

Others questioned the cost of implementation, estimated at $12.3 million, given the fact no extra funding was made available to put the standards in place.

The state board then rejected two proposals, one to approve the standards as submitted and another to send them back to the education agency for more work. Instead, the board directed the Standards Review Committee to keep working before the board’s April 25 meeting.

“I am incredibly disappointed,” Trowbridge said, adding that the move would water down the standards.  “We literally are putting it in a trash bag and throwing it out the window.”

But Walt Wilcox, chairman of the State Board of Education, said the board’s action should not be seen as opposition to the standards, but instead as allowing more time to study ways to put them in place.

“No one is opposed to it (computer science standards), not the board or educators,” he said. “They are opposed to not having plans (in place) to do it.”

A lot of concern comes from elementary teachers who have not been taught how to teach the subject, Wilcox said. He pointed out the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges are just now putting in place an introductory certification track for teachers in computer science and programming.

“Some teachers are feeling overwhelmed and unprepared wondering how (the standards) will get taught,” he said.

Others against adoption said they worried about what other subjects they would need to scuttle to provide time for the new standards.

The review committee has met once since the March 21 meeting, said Kari Eakins, the Wyoming Department of Education’s Chief Policy Officer.

During that meeting in Lander, “the review committee met consensus and felt like they were able to meet concerns,” she said.  

There will be another public comment period before April 25, she said. If the state board approves the standards, they will go to Gov. Mark Gordon for a 90-day review and for his decision.

“We’re doing something that Wyoming has never done before – adding a content area to the common core of knowledge,” Eakins said. “We are in a little bit of uncharted territory.”

Right now, as far as having enough time to implement the standards, the process is in “safe territory,” she said.

Wyoming State Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, supports the standards.

“The standards really reflect what we’re trying to get after,” she said.

Ellis, a member of the Joint Education Committee that sponsored the 2018 legislation, said she was surprised and a little concerned about the outcome of the March 21 meeting and added legislators need to be kept informed about the process.

Wyoming’s students could lead the computer science field if the standards are adopted and if graduates can find places to work, Trowbridge said. 

He noted Array, formed in 2016, has placed 80 percent of its 33 graduates in computer-related jobs in Wyoming within 180 days of graduation. Their starting salaries are about $48,000 a year.  But it hasn’t been easy because tech presence is not that strong in the state, Trowbridge said. 

“If we don’t pass (the standards), we will never be able to recruit tech companies to create the jobs,” Trowbridge said.

Public sector tries new approach to solutions for private industries

in Economic development/News/Education
Wyoming Next Gen partnership workforce

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Few kids see the construction trades as a potential career choice these days, but a new partnership between Wyoming’s public and private sectors is working to change that.

“The Next Gen Sector Partnership is an opportunity to bring industries’ priorities to the center stage,” said Hayley McKee, a Wyoming Department of Workforce Services spokesperson.  “It’s an opportunity for these teams to work together in an aligned approach rather than a siloed approach.”

Initiated in spring 2018, the partnership was designed to position industry professionals as the leaders in economic growth, with the public sector following their lead. 

“In the end, it’s about creating good jobs,” McKee said. “And connecting people with good jobs.”

In Laramie County, Next Gen has already experienced a measure of success, she said.

Larry Fodor, a project manager for the Cheyenne-based Mechanical Systems Inc., said he is working with the partnership to highlight the benefits of in the trades.

“We hope to improve the image and perception of the construction industry,” Fodor said. “The construction industry, in general, is not the dirty, unsafe industry it used to be.” 

Fodor and Next Gen have worked with Laramie County School District No. 1 to coordinate a bus tour for school counselors and staff, visiting several construction businesses around Cheyenne, he said. The initiative can help school district staff and students learn about a variety of construction-based career opportunities, providing details on wages, benefits packages and training options.

“It’s allowed us to show a side-by-side comparison of what a graduate with a bachelor’s degree earns right out of college vs. a journeyman, who’s spent a similar amount of time learning his trade while getting paid,” Fodor explained. “We’ve seen a strong response to the Next Gen approach.”

After working construction in Laramie County for more than a decade, he said the partnership is a refreshing approach to recurring challenges.

“Next Gen as a whole is a new way of looking at solving old problems,” Fodor said. “These problems have been talked about for years without any meaningful way of getting together and moving toward a goal.”

McKee said Next Gen allows entities such as the Wyoming Workforce Development Council, Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Department of Education and Workforce Services to use data to identify challenges in regions across Wyoming, then approach industry leaders in those regions with an invitation to help develop a solution.

“In Laramie county, they selected trades as their area to focus on,” she explained. “But in other regions, they have looked at finance, healthcare and hospitality to name just a few.”

Still in its infancy, Next Gen could help develop struggling economic sectors, stabilizing Wyoming’s boom-bust cycle while reducing the number of young professionals leaving the state in search of jobs, McKee said.

“It’s not necessarily just challenges, but often the partnership is working to build opportunities as well,” she said. “These initiatives are just starting, and they have selected focus areas, but later on down the line, there are other industries that are prime for partnership.”

Wyoming’s alternate school-week schedules are not one-size-fits all

in News/Education
Wyoming classroom education

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

In a rural state, four-day school weeks can be both beneficial and challenging for parents and students alike.

Wyoming school districts have experimented with alternate schedules for the last decade and possibly longer, said Julie Magee, director of the Wyoming Department of Education’s Division of Accountability. 

In most cases, the alternate schedules are requested by school districts to benefit students active in after-school activities such as sports, Magee said, adding the schedules could reduce education costs in some cases. 

Not all Wyoming’s school districts, however, believe the benefit is worth the risk of negatively affecting underprivileged students, some of whom experience food insecurity when school is not in session. Richard Patterson, interim superintendent for Goshen County School District No. 1, said his school board recently voted against moving to a four-day school week.  

“They’ve been looking at this for about two years,” Patterson explained. “What drove it initially was to make sure teachers had more time in the classroom.”

Students in activities often missed class on Fridays as they traveled across the state to participate in events. Longer days Monday through Thursday could prevent those students from missing valuable class time.

When the suggestion was opened to public comment, however, residents and staff voiced several concerns, Patterson said.

“Child care was a big issue, there’s a shortage of childcare universally, but certainly, we deal with it in Torrington,” he explained. “The other concern I heard is with some of these kids, the home environment may not be as stable or as nurturing as we would like, so the school provides a place of structure and nutritious, balanced meals five days a week.”

While GCSD No. 1 does have slightly longer school days Monday through Thursday and a half-day on alternating Fridays, Magee said the Department of Education does not classify the schedule as alternate, because the department clocks half days the same as whole days.

Sixteen of Wyoming’s school districts currently have an alternate schedule in place, including Crook County School District No. 1, according to Department of Education documents.

With three communities and five schools in the district, CCSD No. 1 Superintendent Mark Broderson said the alternate schedule received overwhelming support from staff, parents and students.

“It’s one of those topics that comes up every year, and we’ve tried an alternate calendar in the past,” Broderson said. “There was a lot of days (during the five-day week schedule) we didn’t feel we were getting the most bang for our buck.”

The school district distributed a survey on which at least one question directly addressed a shorter week, he said. Staff, students and parents were polled, and nearly all the survey results were pro-change.

“The staff and faculty responses came back 115 yeses and 7 nos,” Broderson said. “The other surveys were pretty much the same.”

Before suggesting the schedule to the CCSD No. 1 Board of Trustees, the superintendent said he delved into research. 

“There’s only two schools in recent history who’ve gone to a four-day week, then back to a five,” Broderson said. “Neither one of them was based on academic reasons.”

The data he discovered did not provide evidence shorter weeks improved test scores consistently, he said, but attendance improved across the board.

“For some schools, there was a honeymoon period where test scores improved, but most of those leveled out after five years or so,” Broderson said.

Additionally, the school district sent faculty to nearby school districts with alternate schedules to study how best to implement the change. The CCSD No. 1 Board approved the schedule change in Spring 2018.

“Now, we can get all the teachers in the same room talking the same language on the same day,” Broderson said.

To compensate for the lost day, CCSD No. 1 increased the school day Monday through Thursday by about 40 minutes. One Friday a month is also dedicated to intervention and enrichment, allowing students an opportunity to spend time with teachers one-on-one if they are struggling.

“(Intervention and enrichment) days are about making sure kids can get help if they need,” Broderson explained, “and providing kids with things they like to do, because we feel having a healthy culture is also important.”

Wyoming’s school districts will likely continue to experiment with alternate schedules in the foreseeable future, working out what works best for them on a case-to-case basis, Magee said.

“I think the trends show we’ll probably see the same number of (alternate schedule) requests, but it’s hard to say,” she said. “I don’t have any data pointing to an influx or a decrease in requests we might receive in the next few years.”

Go to Top