Tag Archive for NPR

Extension Of ‘Secure Rural Schools’ Means Rural Counties Can Breathe Easy…For Now

This story aired May 7, 2015 on NPR’s All Things Considered

President Barack Obama has signed a $200 billion Medicare bill that reforms payments to physicians. Tucked inside that massive Medicare bill was a two-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools Act, a federal program that pays rural counties and school districts with a lot of non-taxable forest land.

Secure Rural Schools was first approved by Congress in 2000. Since then, it’s been paying counties that have a lot of federal timber land because local governments can’t make money on that land. It’s not taxable. You can’t develop much of it.

Loss Of Federal Timber Payments Mean Tough Choices For Rural Schools

Warren Barnes teaches music at Basin Elementary and Idaho City High School. Barnes works with this preschool class during his prep period. (Credit: Emilie Ritter Saunders)

Warren Barnes teaches music at Basin Elementary and Idaho City High School. Barnes works with this preschool class during his prep period. (Credit: Emilie Ritter Saunders)

This story aired on NPR’s All Things Considered March 12, 2015.

The Basin School District in Idaho City has something most districts in the state don’t, preschool.

On Wednesdays, 12 preschoolers leave their small house-turned-school and walk across the playground to the high school’s music room. The children sit cross-legged in a circle and the music teacher hands out two brightly-colored sticks to each student. Music class for these preschoolers is all about rhythm, following directions, and giggling.

Idaho doesn’t have public preschool, and schools that want to offer it, have to find creative ways to pay for the program. State money isn’t an option.

Over the last 15 years, the Basin School District has paid for their unique preschool program with a grant, a voter-approved levy, some tuition, fundraisers, and federal Secure Rural Schools act money.

“I don’t know how the program could be reduced any more than it already is,” says teacher Mary Allen. “It’s already only two days a week.”

Basin’s entire budget is about $3 million. It’s taking a double hit because its levy funds runs out next year and it’ll lose Secure Rural Schools Act money.

Congress has allowed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act to expire. Rural counties across the country now have $250 million less to work with.

Mitt Romney Returns To The Campaign Trail, This Time Stumping For Idaho Politicians

Rep. Mike Simpson, Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. Jim Risch, and Gov. Butch Otter speak with Idaho media. March 20, 2014.

Rep. Mike Simpson, Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. Jim Risch, and Gov. Butch Otter speak with Idaho media. March 20, 2014.” credit=”Emilie Ritter Saunders

This feature aired on NPR’s Morning Edition March 21, 2014. You can find the full transcript, here.

If there’s one place failed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney can still be effective, it’s in Idaho. The former Massachusetts governor won nearly 65 percent of Idaho votes in the 2012 presidential race.

Romney has kept a relatively low profile after his 2012 presidential defeat. But he’s back on the campaign trail, this time he’s stumping for Idaho’s two-time Republican Governor Butch Otter, eight-time Republican Congressman Mike Simpson, and Republican Senator Jim Risch, who’s running his first re-election campaign.

Storify: Making The Most Out Of Digital Storytelling

The new NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The new NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.” credit=”Emilie Ritter Saunders

I just got back from a three-day digital leadership training hosted by NPR and the Knight Foundation.

It was great to get a refresher on many of the digital storytelling strategies that have been deployed by NPR StateImpact (and StateImpact Idaho), and I also came away with new ideas.

Bonus: the training took place at NPR’s shiny new headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Don’t mind if I do!)

I Storified the highlights:

StateImpact Idaho: Fusing Storytelling With Policy And Accountability Reporting

This photo is from a story I did on how Idaho is trying to help businesses create jobs and retrain workers. Credit: Emilie Ritter Saunders

Idaho is one of eight pilot states collaborating with NPR to boost beat-specific reporting.  Each state has two reporters (Texas has three), focused on creating in-depth broadcast and online pieces.

In Idaho, our beat is the economy.  When the national economy tanked between 2007 and 2009, Idaho was in the thick of it.  Nearly half the state’s construction workers were laid off, home buying and selling collapsed, and state policy makers were left trying to do what they could  to turn things around.  Now, in a post-recession Idaho, recovery has been timid.  That’s left us with a wealth of stories to tell.

Much of my reporting has focused on joblessness, government transparency and business.  Here are a few of the stories and interactives I put together.

Freelance Feature Pieces For NPR

Sara Labbe (right), a member of Pink Gloves Boxing in Anaconda, Mont., spars with a classmate. Courtesy Jacquie Peterson

One of the coolest opportunities that comes with working at an NPR member station, is the ability to pitch and file freelance features for the network.

The challenge is making a local story interesting to an audience that probably couldn’t find Helena or Missoula, Montana on a map.

My first feature opportunity arrived in 2009.  I introduced NPR’s audience to two recent college grads who were launching a women’s-only, boxing-style fitness program.