CHEYENNE — Sixty-three percent of Wyoming’s public school students in kindergarten through third grades are in classes exceeding the state’s new student-to-teacher ratio.
Wyoming Education Department data obtained by The Associated Press on Friday shows that 20 of 48 school districts don’t meet the mandated average class size of 16-to-1 in the early grades. In general, the largest school districts have the most difficult time meeting the ratio.
There are about 29,000 students in kindergarten through third grade in Wyoming, meaning about 18,270 are in classes larger than required under state law. Altogether, the average size of a Wyoming classroom in the four grade levels is 17.5 students per teacher. Education experts said students generally perform better academically in smaller class sizes.
State schools superintendent Cindy Hill said districts are doing what they can to meet the ratio, which was set by the 2011 Legislature as part its education reform initiative.
“There’s been a real commitment on their part to make this happen,” Hill said. “It’s not been easy.”
Hill said she is confident all districts eventually will meet the standard.
“It may take some a little bit longer than it takes others, but we’re all going to get there,” she said.
Hill emphasized that districts that can’t meet the ratio won’t be punished in any way.
State law allows districts to seek a waiver from the Education Department if they show good reason why they can’t or don’t need to meet the standard. For instance, districts with not enough classroom capacity can be excused from meeting the requirement.
Hill said the waiver process is just beginning because districts just recently received their final ratio numbers from her agency.
“It’s all about working together, it’s all about the collaboration, it’s all about all of us getting in and trying to find a solution,” she said.
Districts that don’t meet the ratio and don’t get a waiver risk losing their state financial aid.
According to the data, Fremont County School District 25 in Riverton has the highest average student-teacher ratio in kindergarten through third grade at 20.5 students per teacher. There are about 2,500 students in all grades in the district.
District 25 Superintendent Terry Snyder said Friday that his district has been addressing the issue by hiring more teachers and creating new classrooms, noting the district’s ratio was 25-to-1 last spring.
However, those efforts were set back this school year when 84 additional K-3 students enrolled in district schools.
“As we look to get to our 16-to-1 we still need to hire another 10 teachers,” Snyder said.
Noting the district doesn’t have the classrooms available for the new teachers, Snyder said his district would be applying for a waiver.
Sheridan County School District 3, which includes the small communities of Arvada and Clearmont in northern Wyoming, has the lowest ratio at seven students per teacher. The district has only about 100 students total.
Other districts exceeding 16.5 students per teacher are: Big Horn 1 and 2, Campbell 1, Converse 1 and 2, Fremont 24, Johnson 1, Laramie 1, Lincoln 1 and 2, Park 1 and 6, Platte 1, Sheridan 2, Sublette 1, Sweetwater 1, Teton 1, Uinta 1 and Washakie 1.
All other districts either had lower ratios or met the standard.