Tennessee Watson

Education Reporter

Phone: 307-766-5064
Email: twatso17@uwyo.edu

Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-­producing Wage/Working (a jukebox­-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.

Ways to Connect

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An effort to better coordinate early childhood education is underway in the Wyoming legislature. It’s part of policymakers’ efforts to streamline funding for education.

 

Marion Orr

An effort to pass legislation to help smaller communities get high-speed internet is getting pushback from those in the industry. Lobbyists presented a substitute bill presumably intended to keep communities from forming their own internet operations. 

code.org

Wyoming is poised to be the first state in the country to require its schools to offer computer science education. Friday, the State Senate passed a bill to add computer science to the basket of goods as a common core knowledge area.

 

Tennessee Watson

The Wyoming House of Representatives wrapped up week one of the 2018 Budget Session on Friday shortly before 3:30 p.m., which has some policymakers disappointed.

 

The last day to introduce bills, the early adjournment meant there were over 15 bills that got the ax without even being discussed. House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly said the House never got to discuss a tobacco tax, a sales and use tax rate and changes to a real estate tax, among others.

 

Wyoming Department of Education

In his State of the State address, Governor Matt Mead urged the legislature to find ways to stabilize education funding, which relies heavily on revenues from the energy industry. But attempts to diversify the tax base — to protect school finance from booms and busts — have gone nowhere. Lawmakers who oppose generating new revenue sources say school finance is too opaque. They want more time to settle their uncertainty.

 

Kamila Kudelska

There are over 500 open computing jobs in Wyoming, amounting to roughly $30 million in wages not flowing into the state. That’s according to Code.org, a non-profit that has partnered with the Wyoming Department of Education to expand access to computer science in schools.

 

Ten months and $800,000 later, the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration has completed its in-depth look at how Wyoming finances education. Members of APA Consulting, who were tasked with examining the equity and adequacy of the school funding model, told lawmakers the state’s current approach works but pointed out areas for improvement. Despite a recommendation to spend more, lawmakers are opting to spend less.

Tennessee Watson

Despite 10 months of work, a legislative committee has rejected changes to the school funding model. After examination, APA Consulting produced a similar price tag for funding K-12 education as what the state was spending before the last round of cuts.

 

In its last meeting before the legislative session, the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration refused to adopt the new model suggested by APA.

 

Tennessee Watson

During the upcoming budget session, lawmakers want to take a closer look at transportation and special education funding, as a part of a larger effort to reform and possibly reduce spending in the K-12 finance model.

 

Most of what school districts spend on education is covered in a block grant they receive from the state. But transportation and special education are outside that model, and districts instead bill the state for a 100 percent reimbursement.

 

APA Consulting

Small changes in enrollment can mean big changes in funding for Wyoming’s smaller K-12 schools.

 

The difference in funding resulting from the loss of one student has the biggest impact on middle and high schools. Currently, a drop in enrollment from 50 down to 49 students, means a school can lose funding for an entire teacher and a reduction in resources. Instead of using fixed cut-offs, state-hired consultants are recommending using a mathematical curve to smooth out funding.

 

Huron Consulting

The University of Wyoming wants to increase its student body. To do that, the trustees are looking at attracting more out-of-state students by decreasing their tuition. But does that mean the university has exhausted efforts to get more students from Wyoming to enroll?

Wyoming Department of Education

Top heavy school districts are a concern for lawmakers looking for improved efficiencies in school finance. According to the latest data from the Wyoming Department of Education, in 2015-2016, there were more administrators statewide than what’s recommended in the school funding model, but that’s not a reflection of all districts’ employment practices.

 

David Joyce / Flickr.com

As more and more students across Wyoming enroll in classes online, it can make calculating attendance at a public school a little more tricky. And homeschool students may come to school for just a portion of the day, while other students might leave school early.

In 2017 the legislature passed a policy changing how the school finance model calculates attendance — or what’s called average daily membership.

The amount of time students spend in school impacts the amount of money districts get in their block grant from the state.

Wyoming Department of Education

Wyoming high school graduation rates saw a slight increase in 2017 from the previous year, according to data released by the Wyoming Department of Education. That continues a four-year trend of improvement, bringing the statewide rate up to 80.2 percent.

 

As policymakers head into the 2018 Budget Session, education is a topic many will be watching. Wyoming Public Radio's Tennessee Watson joined Morning Edition Host Caroline Ballard to examine what might be in store after education consultants hired by the state recommended giving more money to education instead of implementing cuts.

Graphics from Education Week. Layout by Tennessee Watson

Wyoming was given a B-minus score for its education quality, according to recently released data in Education Week’s report Quality Counts 2018. That puts it above the national average of a C, and the seventh best in the nation.

 

The grades are based on three criteria: chance for success, K-12 achievement, and school finance.

APA Consulting

Education is underfunded in Wyoming, according to a new report from consultants contracted by the Select Committee on School Finance to take an in-depth look at the state’s educational program.

 

Wyoming Department of Education

In the final hours of the 120 day review period, the U.S. Department of Education notified Wyoming officials that the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act Plan had been approved.

commons.wikimedia.org

A proposal to increase the recommended average class size in Wyoming schools is part of what lawmakers are reviewing in preparation for the 2018 Legislative Budget Session. Increasing class size has been discussed by policy makers as way to reduce costs.

 

Tennessee Watson

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act was one of the bipartisan triumphs of 2017. Referred to as the “Forever GI Bill,” it makes significant changes to education benefits for service members and veterans, like no longer requiring them to use their benefits within 15 years of active-duty service. But supporting veterans in higher education is more complicated than just giving them more time.

 

Marty Martinez spent 29 years in the military before coming to the University of Wyoming.

 

Tennessee Watson

As Wyoming policymakers prepare for the 2018 Budget Session, in which education will be a big topic, teachers are stepping up efforts to make their voices heard.

On Thursday evening, teachers and community members gathered in the backroom of a Laramie restaurant for a postcard writing party.

 

Graphics from SANS. Altered by Tennessee Watson

Jobs in cybersecurity are in high demand, and Governor Matt Mead is encouraging young people in Wyoming to explore the field, especially young women.

 

The governor has announced Wyoming will now participate in the “High School Girls CyberStart Challenge” — a cybersecurity competition for junior and seniors in the form of an online game. In the simulation, players are cyber agents responsible for protecting a base. The idea is to get girls interested in the cybersecurity field, where women are generally underrepresented.

 

Wyoming Humanities Council

The artwork of 31 of the Middle East's premier contemporary women artists is coming to Jackson. “I AM” is an international traveling exhibit focusing on the contributions that Middle Eastern women make to local and global culture, and movements for peace and harmony.  

It’s already made stops in Jordan, London and Washington DC, and will open at the Center for the Arts in Jackson on Friday evening.

 

Ryan Stanley

Quick recovery is key to avalanche survival. Experts say that 93 percent of avalanche victims can be recovered alive if they are dug out within the first 15 minutes, but after that, the likelihood of survival declines drastically. That’s why wearing avalanche beacons and knowing how to use them is an absolute must for backcountry enthusiasts.

 

Graphic by Tennessee Watson

Students are required to do fire drills and tornado drills, yet Wyoming does not require public schools to do sexual assault prevention. Young people are more likely to be impacted by sexual violence than they are by any of those dangers. Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.

 

The High Plains wind farm, near McFadden, Wyoming.
Leigh Paterson

Listen to the full show here. 

Tax Reform's Impact On Western Energy

The debate over tax reform has finally come to an end. Congress has passed its bill and President Trump has signed it. But what’s it all mean for western energy? Wyoming Public Radio’s Cooper McKim helps deconstruct tax reform’s impact. 

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