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As the race for House District 38 heats up, education issues will be the hot topic.

Three Republican candidates - the incumbent, an elementary school principal and a school board member - are running in the primary. The winner will face Democrat Joan Bangen in the general election.

House District 38 includes west Casper and Paradise Valley, western Natrona County and parts of eastern Fremont County.

Incumbent Bob Brechtel, a family farmer, is finishing up his first term in the Legislature.

During his past two years, he said, he has "supported our veterans, the ag industry, and taken a hard look at what we can do to improve the availability of medical services."

Brechtel was named the Greatest Defender of Liberty in the state by the Wyoming Liberty Index.

This fall, Chris Frude will begin her ninth year as principal of Paradise Valley Elementary. Previously, she worked as both assistant principal at CY Junior High and for 13 years as a teacher and administrator at Arapahoe School in Fremont County.

She was named Wyoming's National Distinguished Principal of 2003.

Elaine Scott has served on the Natrona County School Board of Trustees for six years, and has helped transform the teacher's union through the interest-based agreement process. She believes the process, a way of getting input from both parties in a negotiation, will help her in the Legislature.

Her husband, Charlie Scott, is a state senator.

"I've been going down there with him for the past 27 years, and he says it's more fun to have a vote," she said.

All three candidates want to see more young people stay in Wyoming.

Scott said one way is to improve vocational education, an issue she believes many state lawmakers have put on the "back burner."

"It needs a study, what fields in Wyoming that don't require four-year degrees," she said. "We could address those in secondary school, perhaps collaborate with colleges. At NCHS we've been addressing some of this with constructions classes; we need to do it statewide."

Brechtel agrees that vocational education needs to be developed, since not everybody wants or needs a college education.

"We need to develop industries, too," he said. "As rich as Wyoming is in natural resources, we don't need to haul those out of the states."

He said self-produced fuel can make fertilizers, plastics, and other coal-related products, all of which could attract more people to the state.

Frude said she sees many parents who return to Casper when they start their families and become entrepreneurs.

"They don't want to raise their children in Phoenix or in Denver, they want to come back here," she said, adding that strong education systems will help make sure this trend continues.

Scott said one problem with the education system is the gap between state funding for teacher, administrator and staff health insurance and its actual cost. Scott said the state provides $5,103 per person but the Wyoming School Board Association figures the average cost is $6,868 per person. The school districts have to make up the difference.

"That's money that could be spent on something else if the state fully funded the health insurance," she said. "It could be used for school budgets, salary increases, programs for children."

Frude is focused on the importance of early child development in preventing everything from drug abuse to school dropouts.

"It's a passion of mine, being a former kindergarten teacher, and I had my own child care facility," she explained.

She sees child development as a tool for dealing with the methamphetamine problem in Wyoming.

"It's a huge concern that affects every one of us in some way, the employment sector is influenced, DFS, court system, penal system, police, firefighters, EMTs," she listed. "If we spent money up front we'll reap the benefits later on. Those who have successful experiences are less likely to find something that will tear them down."

For Brechtel, however, the major issue in the state right now is the loss of doctors and rising health care costs.

He said he worries about citizens who are uninsured or underinsured.

"The long-term impact is having a basically class system where there are those who can have medical services and those who can't," he said.

While he doesn't believe the state can completely involve itself in such matters, he does think they can provide "framework and direction."


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