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

Tennessee Watson

The Wyoming State Board of Education was born 100 years ago during the 1917 Legislative Session. Wyoming Public Radio’s education reporter Tennessee Watson invited Pete Gosar to reflect on the history of the board, and his final months as Board Chair.

Appointees only get to serve one term, and Gosar said that’s part of what makes the State Board of Education an effective institution. For more on the history of the Wyoming State Board of Education visit their website.

 

Department of Energy

Wyoming's budget deficit has forced the University of Wyoming to reduce spending. Dr. Anne Alexander, Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Education, said "at this point every possible thing that’s 'discretionary' has been cut. There are departments without phones, larger classes, hiring freezes, and increased teaching loads."

University of Wyoming

The Wyoming State Board of Education is celebrating its 100th anniversary this legislature, and potentially seeing some changes in its composition.

A bill approved by the legislature recommends including the University of Wyoming President as a nonvoting ex-officio member.

State Board of Education Chair Pete Gosar welcomed the change. 

“I think for too long education has operated in silos but I’m not sure we can do that anymore. Nor should have done it in the beginning,” said Gosar. 

Tennessee Watson

Right now digital materials stored on the servers of Wyoming’s institutions of higher education do not belong to the students who create them. But a bill making its way through the Wyoming Senate would change that. 

Currently, the content in a University email sent by a student belongs to the University because it’s stored on their server, and the University can do what it want with that email. Laramie Senator Chris Rothfuss said he decided to tackle the problem because of a case involving the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Tennessee Watson

A program to allow judges to mandate substance abuse treatment instead of jail time for drug offenders received final approval by the Wyoming House of Representatives on Tuesday.

House Bill 94 provides funding to support more drug courts. Proponents of the bill say the approach will save the state money overall by reducing prison costs.  

Court mandated substance abuse treatment is already an option in Wyoming, but Thermopolis Representative Nathan Winters said there’s been an uneven application of this program.

State of Wyoming Legislature

An omnibus education bill passed the Wyoming House Tuesday and moved to the Senate for review.

The bill is the House of Representatives' answer to the $400 million education budget deficit. The bill proposes freezing transportation and special education funding for the 2018-2019 fiscal year to generate some savings.

Remaining gaps in funding would be covered by legislative reserves. And should the state’s rainy day account dip below $500 million, the state sales tax and the state use tax would increase a half penny.

The Cathedral Home

Out-of-school suspension is increasingly seen as a contributing factor to poor academic outcomes. Students get sent home and get behind in their school work, and some never catch up. In response, schools across the nation, including several in Wyoming, have created alternatives. One of them is the Albany County Expelled and Suspended Program, mostly commonly referred to as ACES. 

House Bill 211 is a simple bill that has the potential to make a big difference for families of young children with disabilities.  

State funding for developmental preschool and early intervention programs is based off a once a year enrollment count. These programs work with kids, ages zero to five who have disabilities, to help prepare them for school and life. House Bill 211 proposes pushing the date of that count from November 1 back to December 1.

Tennessee Watson

The House Education Committee discussed their proposed omnibus education bill to a packed auditorium at Cheyenne East High School Monday evening.

A steady line of school administrators, teachers, school board members and parents made comments on the proposed budget cuts.

Many people raised concerns about the bill’s overreach. Rather than having the legislature determine how cuts should be made, multiple superintendents said they would prefer a percent cut across the board, giving control to districts and local school boards to decide how to tighten budgets.

On the list of recommendations to reduce Wyoming’s education budget deficit is a cap on special education funding. That means moving forward, districts that need to spend more than their allocated budget will need to cover those additional costs on their own.

The House Education Committee will welcome public comments on the Omnibus Education Bill on Monday at 6 p.m.

In anticipation of a large turnout, Representative David Northrup requested the meeting take place at the Cheyenne East High School Auditorium.

He said it’s because: “We anticipate having a lot of district personnel show up and ask questions. I am probably expecting 300 to 400 people.”

This exceeds the capacity of legislature’s temporary home in the Jonah Building.

Environmental Protection Agency

The Wyoming Department of Education encouraged schools across the state to test for lead.

A memo sent out earlier this month informed superintendents and principals of a program offered by the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s called the 3T Program — for training, testing and telling — and it’s designed to support schools in monitoring and keeping lead in drinking water at minimal levels.

Tennessee Watson

Senate File 35 - the Virtual Education Bill - would help improve virtual learning in Wyoming schools, especially in rural areas where hiring teachers in specialized fields can be hard. Districts across the state are already experimenting with online courses, but the Department of Education wants to bring this opportunity to all students. In Rock Springs, Black Butte High School has been blazing ahead.

Wyoming Department of Education

School districts that temporarily borrow funds from the state may no longer face high interest rates. A bill to remove a 6 percent interest rate on money borrowed from the state’s Common School Fund passed the Wyoming House and is now before the Senate.  

Wikipedia

The Wyoming Constitution mandates that the legislature provide for public schools and present a balanced state budget, which puts legislators in a tight position this session as they contend with a $400 million shortfall in the education budget.

To help address the funding crisis and keep the state out of court, the House Education Committee invited Michael O’Donnell, the State’s Council for School Finance, to present at a special information session.

U.S. Senate

Listen to the whole show here. 

Wyoming Senators Look to Dump the ACA 

Wyoming's two senators are set to play a key role in the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Senate Republicans, led by Senator Mike Enzi took their first steps towards repealing the Affordable Care Act in a late night session.

Photo Courtesy of University of Wyoming

Wyoming is facing big questions about how to sustain the current education funding model, and that may cause uncertainty for educators entering the workforce. Almost half of Wyoming teachers graduate from the University of Wyoming, and a new partnership with the Daniels Fund will shed light on how well the College of Education prepares those teachers. Wyoming Public Radio’s Tennessee Watson spoke with Rebecca Watts, the executive director of The Trustees Education Initiative, about what this partnership means for learning in Wyoming.

Free Stock Photos

The Wyoming Senate has starting working on a bill that is intended to clarify a student's digital privacy. Senate File 20 would prohibit an officer or employee of a school district from accessing a current or prospective student’s digital accounts – like their personal email or Facebook. 

It also prevents a student from being punished for not divulging such information. The legislature defeated a similar bill last year. 

Proponents say the bill protects students’ rights to privacy.

How Wyoming holds its teachers, principals and school district leaders accountable is up for discussion this legislative session. House Bill 37 amends how teachers are held accountable, while Senate File 36 focuses on administrator accountability.

Under the proposed accountability system, data reviewed by the state will tie student performance only to school buildings and districts, and not to individual teachers. Data connecting student performance to teacher performance will then only be evaluated at the local level. 

In late December the Joint Education Committee released potential solutions to the K-12 education funding deficit. In the week-long public comment period that followed, the legislature received close to 600 comments.

The Wyoming School District Coalition for an External Cost Adjustment came out in support of comprehensive approach taken by the Subcommittee on Education Deficit Reduction Options, but expressed concern that the process was happening too fast. 

FLICKR

The Wyoming Department of Education is seeking public comment on revised Graduation Requirements. 

Called Chapter 31, it clarifies requirements for demonstrating competency in the nine required content areas needed for graduation. It also, empowers districts to decide what methods they’ll use to guarantee those requirements are met.            

Natrona County Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Walt Wilcox said the amended rules will make assessment less complex for administrators, and also benefit students.

Wyoming Department of Education

Wyoming has seen its first drop in student enrollment in more than a decade according to data collected by the state Department of Education. Districts lose money when enrollment declines. The good news is that enrollment funding is based on a three year rolling average.

Department of Education Communications Director, Kari Eakins, said that gives school districts a little bit more time to make wise cuts.

The Wyoming Legislature's Joint Education Committee released a document outlining possible solutions to Wyoming’s education funding crisis and has asked for immediate public input.

The Subcommittee on Education Deficit Reduction Options was tasked with offering strategies to address the current funding model, while maintaining the quality of public education.

Teton County Education Foundation

While educators across the state are facing budget cuts, teachers and staff in the Teton County School District have something to look forward to in the New Year. The Teton County Education Foundation granted approximately $23,000 in support of 68 teacher-driven projects in public schools beginning in January.

Susan Eriksen-Meier is the executive director at the Teton County Education Foundation.  She said applications to the Classroom Grants Program doubled this year.

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