A Natrona County School District board trustee on Monday took an unidentified state senator to task for comments denigrating public education in Wyoming.

Board treasurer Dave Applegate told other trustees at their regular meeting that the Legislature is debating public education and he recently attended and listened to a Senate hearing on education.

The state is facing a significant budget shortfall with probable large cuts to services including education, and one proposal may cost the Natrona County School district up to $18 million.

Dave Applegate. NCSD

"I was actually quite disappointed in one senator's comments regarding Wyoming's education system in the idea that maybe we're not getting what we pay for," Applegate said.

He declined to name the senator.

"I strongly disagree with that assertion," Applegate said. "I believe that doesn't represent in a fair way the tremendous accomplishments that are being made across Wyoming and in this district."

One senator, however, noted that Wyoming finishes in the top 10 in the National Assessment Educational Progress -- the test given to fourth- and eight-grade students,  he said.

The high school graduation rate is improving to above 80%, Applegate said.

To put that into perspective, 20 to 40 years ago the national graduation rate probably was 20% to 30% lower with a much smaller cohort, he said. "There weren't even as many kids in high school."

Graduation standards also have increased, too, Applegate said.

"What we're asking our kids to learn is far in exceedence what those of us over 50 had to learn in high school," he said. "So I think that needs to be taken into account."

Most importantly, students' needs are being met now compared to when they weren't before, such as those with special needs, Applegate said. "And I think we do a pretty good job there."

The Natrona County School District, he added, offers schools of choice, the Planetarium, the Casper Mountain science program, dual learning immersion programs in Spanish and Mandarin, and the Pathways Innovation Center for career training in nursing, construction and automotive.

Applegate urged legislators to see for themselves what happens in the schools to get a better perspective when they consider the budget.

"I think our Legislature needs to find a solution that allows us to maintain the excellent education system we have here in Wyoming," he said.

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