Vermont State University president recommends cutting 10 degree programs and up to 33 faculty positions

Vermont State University president recommends cutting 10 degree programs and up to 33 faculty positions
a man sitting at a table in front of a laptop computer.
Mike Smith, interim president of Vermont State University, at the Vermont Technical College campus in Williston in May. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Vermont State University should end 10 degree programs, including agriculture, music and school psychology, and lose around 20-33 faculty positions, Interim President Mike Smith said in a draft report issued Oct. 2.

Smith’s report also recommends consolidating another 13 degree programs and moving 11 among the university’s multiple campuses. None of the recommendations, if implemented, would affect current students in those programs, according to VTSU leadership. The changes would begin in the fall of 2024.

The school administration is soliciting feedback on the recommendations until Oct. 27, according to the preliminary report, a copy of which was obtained by VTDigger. University leadership will make final decisions by Oct. 31.

“None of this is easy, and I recognize that impacted faculty will have a period of transition ahead of them,” Smith wrote in the report, adding, “What we are doing with these recommendations is confronting our pressures head on — not running from them — and forging a path to address each and every one of them either through steps to obtain fiscal sustainability, strategic plan for admissions, or a student success model to keep students engaged in academic life.”

Smith did not immediately respond to calls and texts Monday night. The report is expected to be made public Tuesday morning.

In the document, Smith recommends discontinuing degrees in agriculture; forestry; landscape contracting; an applied business degree completion program; computer engineering technology; music; photography; performance, arts, and technology; climate change science; and school psychology.

Ending those programs would not necessarily mean that instruction in those subjects would cease entirely. For example, the report notes that VTSU’s recently created Center for Agriculture and Food Entrepreneurship is working to “identify opportunities for a newly designed Agriculture program that is sustainable and meets the needs of Vermont’s workforce.”

And while the report recommends ending the degree in climate change science, it also suggests promoting a climate change concentration within an atmospheric sciences degree.

The programs that Smith recommended cutting currently enroll 77 students, he said, roughly 2% of the university’s student body. All told, the cuts and consolidations proposed in the report would eliminate between 20 to 33 full-time faculty positions — between 10% and 15% of the university’s total of 207.

Vermont State University is planning to release details about a buyout program for faculty “in the coming days,” the report states. “If there is sufficient uptake in the buyout program, layoffs may not be necessary.”

The university was formed this summer through the merger of three public institutions: Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College. The merger was intended to put the three on a pathway to financial stability.

Monday’s report — an initiative that administrators dubbed “Optimization 2.0” — appears to be the next phase of that consolidation. According to Smith, VTSU offers too many academic programs — 99 in total — while some have too few students enrolled.

That situation, he said, is financially untenable. VTSU ended the most recent fiscal year with a $22 million deficit, and the university “must realize efficiencies now that we are unified,” the report reads.

Smith’s term ends Nov. 1, at which point he will be succeeded by the recently hired interim president David Bergh, who is expected to run the university for roughly 18 months.

Monday’s report identifies 13 programs that should be consolidated with others, many of which appear to be already similar.

It proposes merging a program in architectural & building engineering technology with a program in architectural engineering technology, for example.

Among other consolidations, the report recommends combining musical theater and theater arts programs, as well as merging a degree in creative writing with one in literature and writing. And it proposes folding a degree in “Health Promotion” into a health science degree or discontinuing it.

Another 11 programs should shift their location from one of the university’s campuses to another, according to the report.

Last month, in response to complaints from faculty and staff that VTSU employs too many administrators, Smith vowed to examine the institution’s administrative positions and their effect on the budget. In Monday’s report, he reiterated that promise.

“Please know that I strongly agree that administrative costs of the university must be optimized and reduced as well,” Smith wrote. “With this first set of recommendations out the door I will now turn my attention to administrative costs, releasing a recommendation before my departure at the end of the month.”

Linda Olson, a sociology professor who represents VTSU faculty for the American Federation of Teachers, said that there were still many unanswered questions about the report.

“I think that there needs to be a lot of explanation still about why the proposal is making the recommendations that it is,” she said. “And also, more importantly, what data they’re basing it on.”

Read the story on VTDigger here: Vermont State University president recommends cutting 10 degree programs and up to 33 faculty positions.

Nonprofit Shares Three National Lessons about Rural Higher Education

a bald white man sits in front of a computer at a table with a latino man wearing a black cap.

Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in Mile Markers, a twice monthly newsletter from Open Campus about the role of colleges in rural America. You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article to receive future editions in your inbox.

Across the country, rural educators are grappling with evolving workforce demands in fascinating ways.

In Florida: The Everglades are about to become a $300 million economic hub with the creation of the new Airglades International Airport … if the region can attract the 1,400 workers it needs.

In Indiana: A county whose limestone sheaths the Empire State Building and the National Cathedral is converting a prison education program into a broader adult workforce redevelopment initiative.

In New Mexico: An education collaborative founded to get Taos students better internet during the COVID-19 pandemic is working to create more career opportunities outside of just tourism for its diverse Latino and indigenous populations.

These are three of the five communities that CivicLab — a Columbus, Indiana-based education nonprofit — has been working with in an effort to increase educational capacity in rural areas.

The project began two years ago, with a $750,000 grant awarded by Ascendium Education Group.

Full disclosure: Ascendium sponsors my work here at Open Campus. I was not asked by Ascendium to report on CivicLab’s work, and you can read more about our editorial independence policy here.

The lessons from each of these communities are compelling, and we will explore some of them in future editions of Mile Markers.

However, after recently speaking with Dakota Pawlicki, director of Talent Hubs at CivicLab, it was clear that there are several national trends about rural higher ed worth spotlighting in today’s edition.

1. The role of unlikely champions

Pawlicki further expanded my understanding of the types of champions rural areas can lean on. For example, a local county judge was a key partner to getting justice-involved individuals into workforce retraining programs in rural Duval County, Texas, nearly two hours inland of Corpus Christi.

Regular readers of Mile Markers may not find this to be a huge surprise — : after all, we’ve spotlighted the ways surprising mentors can make a huge difference in rural spaces, from Kansas to California and Colorado.

“In a lot of urban and suburban areas, you have to refer to institutional organizational leadership to spur change,” Pawlicki says. But in rural communities, folks wear a lot of different hats, creating a different set of trust and reputational factors.

“One of the generalizable pieces of advice is to think of a broader set of stakeholders when going about doing this work,” Pawlicki says. “We are constantly finding unlikely champions.”

2. The notion of rural uniqueness

At a lot of national organizations, there is a persistent perception that rural colleges and communities are at a deficit, Pawlicki says. CivicLab tries to push against that with the way it approaches its community building and education efforts.

“We really focus on examining and asking what questions organizations are asking, because, oftentimes, we are asking the wrong one,” Pawlicki says. “So then it becomes about more interesting questions, like: ‘What do you have going for you, for your community?”

One example: CivicLab tries to push communities to find novel solutions within the programs that are already working in their communities, rather than starting some new initiative to reach their goals.

That attitude shines through with the work being done in Lawrence County, Indiana, where local employers were thrilled with a prison workforce retraining program … and started asking for more.

“The program was primarily for people who were currently in the justice system, or people who had recently exited. They would earn credentials tied to a job with high demand, and employers were saying “We need more of this,” Pawlicki says, before chuckling.

“Now, obviously we don’t want to send more people to jail just to get more people into this program. But what if we just opened up this existing program that’s already staffed, and start including people who aren’t in the justice system?”

That thinking led to expanding the program to other area adults who needed ongoing career education and training, a particularly valuable addition considering that there are no community colleges or four-year universities in the county.

3. How do rural communities get to define themselves?

Pawlicki used to work at the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation, another funder of Open Campus. He notes that the grant requirements for national education philanthropies often come from a well-meaning place but end up forcing rural communities to define themselves not by what they have, but what they are lacking.

There are many institutional reasons why that is the case. It can be difficult to define rural, as I noted in our very first edition of Mile Markers, and that definitional challenge causes problems when trying to fund education innovation in rural areas.

“At the federal level, there are somewhere between 22 to 25 different rural definitions across agencies, and private philanthropy asks communities to prove they are rural,” Pawlicki says.

“We went about our request for proposals in a different way: We said, ‘Don’t worry about sharing all your demographic data with us. If it’s publicly available data, we’ll grab it ourselves. Instead, tell us about your place, and tell us about your people.”

That approach led CivicLab to notice a curious trend. CivicLab received 10 qualified proposals, generally from three different places: those that were “truly rural” by most metrics, those that were in a neighboring county and “rural-adjacent,” and, finally, those that were “rural-serving” but not rural themselves.

“We found that the further away you were from being truly rural-located, the more deficit-language you ended up using in your proposal,” Pawlicki notes, saying those submissions typically included more stats about poverty rates and unemployment rolls.

“Through the trends and data points were similar, proposals from truly rural places took less of a ‘here’s how poor we are’ approach, and more of a ‘here is our rich history: here are the people who came from our community.’”

For Pawlicki, that discovery made it even clearer to him that any definition of rural that does include primary data – that is, insight and information from the people within those communities – is insufficient.

It was also a reminder that rural communities aren’t often given the same opportunity to tout their special nature as urban and suburban communities might.

“As funding agencies and policymakers, we let cities do this all the time: They routinely boast their unique assets when competing for high-profile federal investments,” Pawlicki says. “We don’t allow rural America to do the same thing … or at the very least, we don’t give it the same weight.”

yellow wild flowers sit in the foreground of a mountain landscape
A view from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. (Photo by Nick Fouriezos)

More Rural Higher Ed News

The opportunity of rural community colleges. The Fifth Federal Reserve District — comprising a district that includes Maryland, the Carolinas, Virginia and most of West Virginia — released a report analyzing the critical role of community colleges in rural communities, noting that universities and hospital systems typically receive more recognition as “anchor institutions.”

“To the extent that they play a role in ensuring opportunities and achieving efficient outcomes in rural areas, community colleges may represent an undervalued opportunity,” the report concluded.

Wyoming starts student-centered learning efforts. The Cowboy State started its push for instruction and assessments that better align with students’ needs at a kick-off event in Casper, Wyo. that included a keynote from Governor Mark Gordon.

Montana launches statewide micro-credential program. 12 Montana colleges and universities are collaborating with the Education Design Lab, local employers, and other stakeholders to create 12-20 short-term credentialing programs that lead to an associate degree or immediate employment in economically critical fields.

This article first appeared in Mile Markers, a twice monthly newsletter from Open Campus about the role of colleges in rural America. Join the mailing list today to have future editions delivered to your inbox.

The post Nonprofit Shares Three National Lessons about Rural Higher Education appeared first on The Daily Yonder.

Tribe bans Dupree educators from reservation over child abuse allegations

New school meal rules give Henry County fighting chance against food insecurity

Vast majority of Wyoming kids get vaccinated

A lone pronghorn buck stands in grass in front of a school
A lone pronghorn buck stands in grass in front of a school

A new school year is nearly upon us and families are racing to complete their back-to-school to-do lists. But how many will get the required vaccines with COVID-19 skepticism still so high?

Initial data suggests the vast majority will. 

Schools in Wyoming don’t require COVID-19 vaccines, but the inoculations are encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, years-old requirements range from vaccines against hepatitis B to measles to polio.

At Fremont County School District 25, K-12 students last year averaged a 97% vaccination rate, according to special services director Dallas Myers. While some practice their right to get a waiver, he said they are in the minority.

Head nurse Janet Farmer with Laramie County School District 1 heard from a Wyoming Department of Health employee that the use of vaccination waivers was down, she said. The health department has not confirmed that yet. Families in Farmer’s district have until Sept. 22 to submit health-officer-approved waivers, she added.  

Some school kids are particularly vulnerable to illnesses because of health conditions like recovering from cancer, Farmer added, and others getting vaccines helps keep them healthy.

“If we have that herd immunity that’s strong, we’re in a much better position for all those students.”

Head nurse Janet Farmer

“We always have people who are very immune compromised,” she said. “If we have that herd immunity that’s strong, we’re in a much better position for all those students.”

The latest data from the 2021-22 school year shows that more than 92% of Wyoming kindergarteners had gotten the required vaccinations.

“The big takeaway is that the vast majority of Wyoming’s school children continue to receive the required vaccines by the time they enter school,” Wyoming Department of Health spokesperson Kim Deti stated in an email.

“At the same time, there have been small dips in the coverage percentages and some increases in exemption numbers,” she added, referring to the data ending in 2022. “That was starting to be a concern across the country about decreasing rates before the pandemic, and then the pandemic likely had some additional effects.”

Vaccine skepticism is “not unexpected,” Deti stated, but the health department urges families to utilize both the required and suggested vaccines at this time. 

Federal funds also bolstered a Wyoming-specific campaign urging residents to consider vaccination. Based on an archival news clip about a Basin man who died from tetanus after shaving, Deti said, the commercial “takes a lighter approach to reminding residents of the successes vaccines have had over time.”

“One reason affecting vaccination rates is likely that younger generations are not familiar with many of the diseases vaccines can prevent,” Deti stated. “These diseases may not seem like real threats today.”

The mandatory vaccine with the lowest uptake in Wyoming, according to kindergartener records, was one for tetanus and diphtheria. About 92.5% of the schoolkids had that vaccine versus 94.6% who were vaccinated against hepatitis B.

Students can be exempted from vaccine requirements for religious and medical reasons. The latter is “very rare,” Deti stated. 

The health department website cites state code allowing for the exceptions, but adds with emphasis, “The law does not allow parents/guardians to request a waiver simply because of inconvenience … Wyoming statute does NOT allow for the authorization of waiver requests based on philosophical beliefs. Schools should maintain an up-to-date list of students with waiver, so they may be excluded during a vaccine-preventable disease outbreak as determined by the State Health Officer o[r] a County Health Officer.”

Statewide vaccine information from last year and this coming year’s school kids is not yet available, and Deti said she doesn’t know when it will be. It is required by the state for anyone attending school to provide “documentary proof of immunization” within the first 30 days of the school year.

The post Vast majority of Wyoming kids get vaccinated appeared first on WyoFile.

Minnesota implements new Native history requirement for teachers

Minnesota teachers renewing their license must now undergo training about Native American history and culture.

The Legislature passed a law this year requiring training for K-12 teachers about the “cultural heritage and contemporary contributions of American Indians, with particular emphasis on Minnesota Tribal Nations,” in order to renew their license.

The requirement goes into effect for less-experienced teachers Tuesday and the remainder of the teaching corps Jan. 1.

Teachers already must fulfill multiple requirements to renew their licenses, including training on suicide prevention and reading preparation.

In addition, they are required to undergo cultural competency training — which includes instruction on how to best serve Native American students — to renew their licenses, but Native American-specific training will eventually be its own requirement.

The Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board is working on the Native American history rollout and exactly what the training will include. Until then, teachers can fulfill the new requirement under the existing cultural competency training.

In his education budget, Gov. Tim Walz recommended Native American history renewal requirement for teachers and argued the current cultural competency requirements for teachers didn’t dedicate enough time specifically to Native American history.

“Given the rich history of American Indians and their contemporary contributions, more time and resources should be provided to Minnesota educators,” Walz’s budget proposal stated.

Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union, said in a statement that it supports the new training requirement, but noted it adds an additional burden for teachers.

“Minnesota’s Indigenous history is complex, rich and long, and it has been far too often ignored in both U.S. and Minnesota history lessons,” said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht. “At the same time, we have to be aware of the extra time and effort each new requirement adds to the plates of educators, and give them the adequate time and training they need to address these important pieces of delivering a well-rounded education.”

The state licensing board said it will release more information about the requirement’s specifics in the coming weeks.

Minnesota’s academic standards for students include material about the cultural heritage and contributions of Native Americans and the tribal nations with which Minnesota shares borders. The Legislature this past session also mandated school districts offer curriculum on the Holocaust, the genocide of Indigenous people and the removal of Native Americans from Minnesota.

This article was first published in the Minnesota Reformer. 

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Who picks school curriculum? Idaho law hands more power to parents

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — When J.D. Davis, the department chair of English at Twin Falls High School, was told last year that half of the committee he was leading to pick new texts and materials for the district’s English Language Arts classrooms would be parents and community members, he objected.

“I said, ‘I’m not going to have parents involved! They don’t know what we’re doing. They don’t know what we need in a textbook as far as curriculum.’ I kind of scoffed at it,” said Davis, who also teaches journalism, oversees the school newspaper and advises the Gay-Straight Alliance.

A new Idaho law gave him no choice.

Across the U.S., educators typically lead textbook selections, although many districts, like Twin Falls, have long included parents in the process. Idaho’s “District Curricular Adoption Committees” law makes parent involvement mandatory — and then some — demanding districts form committees of at least 50 percent non-educators, including parents of current students, to review and recommend new texts and materials.

A year in, the law is reshaping what is or isn’t in the curriculum in many counties in this Western state, including how subjects like climate change or social movements are discussed in some courses.

It has spurred tough but positive parent-school discussions in Twin Falls where parents and educators say the conversations have forced them to consider one another’s concerns and perspectives. In other districts, however, it’s poised to harden divisions and keep students from getting learning tools they need.

Whitney Urmann, who attended schools in West Bonner County School District and taught fourth grade last year, packed up her classroom to teach in California. Credit: Image provided by Seth Hodgson

Related: Inside Florida’s ‘underground lab’ for far-right policies

Around the country, curricula — books and materials that guide but don’t define lessons — have become a political target of conservatives who fear conflict with values they want to instill in their children. Over the past two years, 147 “parental rights” bills were introduced in state legislatures, according to a legal tracker by the education think tank FutureEd.

Only a handful passed. Many restrict discussions around race and gender. Several enforce parents’ ability to review texts and materials. A 2022 Georgia “Parents’ Bill of Rights” requires that schools provide parents access to classroom and assigned materials within three days of a request. The Idaho curriculum law, embraced by the state’s conservative legislature, went into effect in July 2022.

The curriculum law is noteworthy because it gives non-educators more power not just to inspect curriculum, but to help choose it.

Twin Falls High School is home to English department chair J.D. Davis, who led a committee that was 50 percent community members and parents in selecting a new district English Language Arts curriculum, in accordance with a new Idaho law. Credit: Laura Pappano for The Hechinger Report

Some educators view it as a political move to undercut their professional role. “The parent partnership is important,” said Peggy Hoy, an instructional coach in the Twin Falls district and the National Education Association director for Idaho. “The problem is when you make a rule like they did and there is this requirement, it feels as an educator that the underlying reason is to drive a wedge between the classroom and parents.”

Sally Toone, a recently retired state representative and veteran teacher who opposed the law, sees it as a legislative move by conservatives “to have parents be a driver, instead of a partner, in the educational process.”

Educators also voiced practical considerations. It can be tough for districts to find parents to devote time to curriculum review. Many have had to scramble, Hoy and others said. Only three non-educators agreed to serve on a math curriculum committee in Twin Falls, which meant that only three educators could participate — fewer than half the optimal number, said the educator who led the committee. Ditto for a science curriculum committee in Coeur D’Alene.

“My family and I are very religious. My biggest concern as a father was, ‘What are my children going to be reading?’ ”

Chris Reid, a father of seven who served on the committee to select a new English Language Arts curriculum for the Twin Falls School District

Having many non-educators involved also changes how materials are judged. Educators want to know, for example, if lessons are clear and organized, and whether they connect to prior learning and support students of differing levels. By contrast, “parents don’t understand the pedagogy of what happens in a curriculum,” said Hoy. They “look at the stories, the word problems, the way they are explaining it.”

Rep. Judy Boyle, a Republican state legislator who sponsored the law, initially agreed to an interview but did not respond to several requests to arrange it.

Related: Population booms overwhelm schools in the West: ‘Someone’s going to get left behind’

During the review process in Twin Falls, a district with 9,300 students in southern Idaho, parents objected to a theme around peaceful protests, the tone of questions around climate change and lessons that included social emotional learning.

The curriculum with social emotional learning “got nixed pretty quickly,” said Davis, the English teacher leading the committee. Social emotional learning (SEL) — tools and strategies that research shows can help students better grasp academic content — has become a new lightning rod for the far-right across and is often conflated with Critical Race Theory or CRT.

Chris Reid, a banker and vice mayor of Twin Falls and father with seven children in the public schools, said he was eager to help select the new English Language Arts curriculum and make sure materials were “age-appropriate” and not include “revisionist history,” LGBTQ themes or sexuality introduced “to younger-age children.”

“My family and I are very religious,” said Reid, sitting one afternoon in his mezzanine office at First Federal Bank. “My biggest concern as a father was, ‘What are my children going to be reading?’”

Chris Reid, a father of seven who served on the committee to select a new English Language Arts curriculum for the Twin Falls School District, in his office at First Federal Bank. Participating in the curriculum review, he said, convinced him that teachers “are not trying to indoctrinate my child.” Credit: Laura Pappano for The Hechinger Report

Despite some tense conversations, Davis, the teacher, said the process was overall “not threatening.” He also liked the curriculum choice, the myPerspectives textbooks by Savvas Learning Company. He does, however, see risks with the new mandate, including that a parent or community member with an agenda “could hamstring the district from getting the best textbook,” he said. “It could literally be one member of the committee.”

Committee member Anna Rill, a teacher at Canyon Ridge High School, said the difficult conversations about content “made us think a little more about the community you are living in and that you are serving.”

Twin Falls, named for the waterfalls formed by the Snake River Canyon dam, which in the early 1900s turned the area from desert into a rich agricultural region now called “The Magic Valley,” is politically conservative (70 percent voted for Donald Trump in 2020). L.H. Erickson, director of secondary programs for the school district, said he thought the curriculum “should meet the values and ideals of your community.”

Increasing public involvement makes good sense because schools must be responsive to parent views, said Erickson. “Parents give us their children for several hours a day and a lot of trust and we want to make sure to earn and keep that trust.”

Reid, the father of seven, liked being able to share his. “I got to hear other perspectives; they got to understand my side on the content,” he said. The experience led him to conclude that, “teachers are not evil. They are not trying to indoctrinate my child.”

Related: States were adding lessons about Native American history. Then came the anti-CRT movement

The new law may help to build bridges in Twin Falls and some other communities. But in West Bonner County, which serves about 1,000 students in rural north Idaho, a year-old dispute over an English Language Arts curriculum continues to fuel division.

The blow-up began last summer. In June, before the new law went into effect, the curriculum review committee, which included a few parents, chose the Wonders English Language Arts curriculum from McGraw-Hill. The school board approved it quickly and unanimously. The materials were purchased and delivered. “They were stacked in the hallways,” one parent said.

Then, some local conservative activists loudly objected, saying the materials contained social emotional learning components. In developing the curriculum, McGraw-Hill had partnered with Sesame Workshop to include SEL skills that language on the Wonders site said included “a focus on self-confidence, problem-solving, and pro-social behavior.” At a meeting on Aug. 24, 2022, the school board voted 3-1 to rescind the curriculum.

Sally Toone, a rancher, teacher for 37 years and recently retired state representative, voted against the Idaho curriculum review law, which she said was a move by conservatives “to have parents be a driver, instead of a partner, in the educational process.” Credit: Laura Pappano for The Hechinger Report

Because the existing curriculum is out of print, the district lacked a reading program last year.

“We had no spelling lists, no word work. The first unit was on the desert and we live in north Idaho,” said Whitney Urmann, who taught fourth grade last year at West Bonner County School District’s Priest Lake Elementary School. “Very early on, I stopped using the curriculum,” Urmann said.

She had two workbooks for her entire class and few books leveled to her students’ abilities. Other materials were incomplete or irrelevant, she said. From mid-October on, she said, she purchased materials herself, spending $2,000 of her $47,000 salary to be able to teach reading.

The board’s decision, said Margaret Hall, the board member who cast the dissenting vote, “has created some ill feelings.” Indeed: Two board members who voted to rescind the curriculum now face a recall after parents gathered enough signatures on petitions to force a vote.

Shouting at one school board meeting in June went on for nearly four hours.

The dispute, and the subsequent absence of teaching materials, has upset some local parents.

Hailey Scott, a mother of three, said she worries that her child entering first grade, an advanced reader, won’t “be challenged.” Meanwhile, her third grader is behind in reading, said Scott, “and I fear she will be set back even more by not having a state-approved curriculum in her classroom.”

Whitney Hutchins, who grew up in the district and works at the Priest Lake resort her family has owned and operated for generations, recently decided with her husband to move across the state line to Spokane, Washington.

“This is not the environment I want to raise my child in,” said Hutchins, mother of an 18-month-old. She said the curriculum law is part of a larger problem of extremists gaining control and destroying civic institutions.

“It is scary to me that 50 percent of people choosing the curriculum are not going to be teachers,” she said. “It is scary to me that it is going to be people with a political agenda who don’t believe in public education.”

Whitney Urmann, a fourth grade teacher at Priest Lake Elementary School last year, said that by October she had exhausted all available materials in the reading curriculum, which is out of print. Credit: Image provided by Whitney Urmann

Hutchins doesn’t see things improving. The school board, on a 3-2 vote, chose Branden Durst — who was previously a senior analyst at the far-right Idaho Freedom Foundation and has no educational experience — as the district’s new superintendent over Susie Luckey, the interim superintendent and a veteran educator in the district.

Durst said that he wanted the job because of the district’s challenges, including around curriculum. “I have a lot of ideas that are frankly unorthodox in education. I needed to prove to myself that those things are right,” he said. Those ideas could include using a curriculum developed by the conservative Christian Hillsdale College, he said.

Durst is currently assembling a new committee with plans to quickly adopt a new English Language Arts curriculum, but declined to share details.

“It is scary to me that 50 percent of people choosing the curriculum are not going to be teachers. It is scary to me that it is going to be people with a political agenda who don’t believe in public education.”

Whitney Hutchins, mother who recently decided to leave Twin Falls for Spokane, Washington

Jessica Rogers, who served on the committee that picked the Wonders curriculum, said she saw hints of trouble long before the vote to reject the curriculum. She said the curriculum adoption committee anticipated political attacks, including over images that showed racial diversity. “One of the things we did was go through the curriculum and see where the first blond-haired, blue-eyed boy was,” she recalled, adding that they noted pages to use as a defense.

It was, she said, “bizarre.”

Rogers and her husband recently built a home atop a hill with a broad view of Chase Lake. As her three daughters had a water fight on the patio, she hoped aloud that building in the West Bonner County School District was not a mistake.

This story about curriculum reviews was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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Growing number of NM schools pursue restorative justice to keep kids in schools

On a brisk February morning with snow on the ground, children arrived at Tsé Bit A’í Middle School in Shiprock, on the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico. Word in the hallway was something was afoot: Substitute teachers were waiting in each classroom.  The children’s 35 regular teachers were spotted, sitting in a large circle […]

The post Growing number of NM schools pursue restorative justice to keep kids in schools appeared first on New Mexico In Depth.

West Virginia University faces budget cuts and layoffs. Here’s what to know

As students prepare to return to campus, painful cuts to degree programs and faculty positions at West Virginia University are on the horizon as administrators work to fix a $45 million budget deficit.

At this moment, almost half of the faculty are waiting to find out whether they will still have a job in a year or need to find work elsewhere. 

Based on enrollment trends and revenue, many degree programs across the campus are having to prove to administrators that they will be able to attract students and valuable tuition dollars in the years to come.

The process is expected to be finished by mid-fall and will result in some tenured professors being laid off as programs are downsized or eliminated.

“Please understand how demoralizing, heartbreaking, and scary it is to think you are secure in your faculty position only to now live in fear every day that it will be cut,” wrote a faculty member in a public comment — one of almost two hundred submitted in response to a recently proposed rule changes that will make it easier to lay off faculty. 

In one letter to the board, dozens of professors said that the way in which the layoffs are being done will make it difficult to recruit faculty, undermine academic freedom, imperil WVU’s research efforts and ultimately hurt students.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why is there a budget crisis at WVU?

Rhododendrons are in bloom on the downtown campus as seen Monday, May, 22, 2023. (WVU Photo/Jennifer Shephard)

Student enrollment, the single biggest source of revenue through tuition, has steadily declined over the past decade and is expected to continue going down. Today, around 5,000 fewer students are enrolled – and paying tuition – than in 2014.

The enrollment decline started before the COVID-19 pandemic but was exacerbated by it. Both in West Virginia and nationwide, fewer high school seniors are choosing to attend college than before the pandemic. 

At WVU, a long-term budget problem became an immediate budget crunch after the university enrolled smaller freshmen classes during the pandemic and administrators underestimated how many students would graduate in spring of 2022. More students left than were coming in, and tuition revenue went down.

WVU’s budget situation is also closely tied to actions by state lawmakers. Public funding has gone down over the last decade, forcing the university to become more dependent on tuition revenue, according to analysis from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. 

While both enrollment and state funding have declined, expenses have increased. Changes made by lawmakers earlier this year to the state health insurance plan will cost the university $10 million more next year. Inflation and higher wages have also affected the budget, according to administrators.

“At the end of the day, we’ve dropped enrollment,” Rob Alsop, vice president for strategic initiatives, said during a meeting with faculty earlier this summer. “Our expenses are up. Our state appropriations are not going to save us. And we’ve got to figure out a pathway collectively forward.”

What is WVU going to do about its budget deficit?

In March, WVU administrators announced the $45 million budget shortfall and quickly began a review of degree programs. By mid-summer, almost half were placed “under review” based on enrollment and revenue.

The list includes the law school, the education program, the creative arts college, the public health school, the pharmacy school, the math program, some engineering programs and more.

Faculty and leaders have defended their programs and made the case for why they should be kept. In light of the enrollment and revenue data collected by top administrators, leadership from each program have recently submitted plans detailing current and future efforts to increase enrollment and reduce costs.

Closing or shrinking programs and the resulting layoffs are the latest — and most drastic — cost-cutting measure that WVU has asked faculty to go through.

Since 2020, administrators have been looking to cut costs through a process that they’ve called “Academic Transformation.” Prior to the current review, they have merged two pairs of colleges and restructured other programs.

At the beginning of this year, budget officials implemented a hiring freeze and stopped spending on supplies, employee hospitality and travel in most situations. Printing on physical paper was specifically discouraged.

Who is to blame for the budget crisis? Who will fix it?

President E. Gordon Gee delivers his State of the University address earlier this year. (WVU Photo/Matt Sunday)

In a state with a declining college-going rate and poor economic conditions, several external factors have contributed to the crisis. 

President E. Gordon Gee, who just had his contract renewed through 2025 by the university’s governing board and says he plans to step down afterwards, has presented the budget cuts as a necessary step to continue attracting students to a smaller institution. 

“My friends, we have been overgrown for a very long time,” he said in a March address to faculty and students. 

After Gee was chosen as WVU’s president in 2014, he pledged to increase enrollment to 40,000 students, an increase of several thousand students. Enrollment has steadily gone down since and is now around 26,000

Administrators have been in the driver’s seat during this crisis. They’ve decided when to release information, changed rules to make it easier to lay off faculty members and, ultimately, will decide who to cut. 

Faculty acknowledge that the budget crisis must be dealt with but have sharply criticized the speed and manner in which cuts are being made. Several times, faculty members have asked why highly-paid senior administrators are not taking pay cuts to help with the crisis.

Alsop, who oversees much of the university’s business operations, has said that this would be bad for morale and make it difficult to recruit future job candidates.

How does this change what WVU will be in a decade?

In a decade, there will likely be fewer faculty, fewer staff and fewer students at WVU. 

Gee has presented a vision of a smaller institution that is focused on programs that students want. He has also frequently emphasized WVU’s health care and research wings as significant parts of the university’s future.

Those areas have grown in recent years with more grant revenue to do research and WVU Medicine’s expansion across the state.

Some high school seniors may find that the program they want to attend no longer exists at WVU. But it’s not clear yet exactly what programs these could be.

On August 14, WVU is expected to release information about which academic programs are on the chopping block and could be downsized or discontinued. Final decisions will be made in September.

West Virginia University faces budget cuts and layoffs. Here’s what to know appeared first on Mountain State Spotlight, West Virginia’s civic newsroom.