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

A landslide in a popular area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming's western mountains has locals worried about the region's economy.

Tennessee Watson

Students across Wyoming participated Wednesday in the #NationalSchoolWalkout movement. At Central High in Cheyenne, over 200 students gathered at 10 a.m., occupying the school’s commons for 17 minutes;  one minute for each student who died in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida last month.

Screenshot from the UCSD#1 Board YouTube

Uinta County School District #1 voted late Tuesday evening to put guns in the hands of teachers and staff. The district is the first in Wyoming to act on legislation passed last year to let local school districts decide whether to permit concealed carry in schools.

Listen to the full show here. 

2018 Legislative Session Update: Chaos, Critical Infrastructure, And Education Funding

The Wyoming Legislative session is coming to an end and Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck joined Morning Edition host Caroline Ballard to discuss the lawmakers' progress.

Q. Quallen rock climbing
Q. Quallen

On a Sunday evening, Q. Quallen worked off some stress at the University of Wyoming rock climbing gym. The senior, double majoring in wildlife and natural resources, has had a rough past year.

“When I’m climbing, it’s like a puzzle that I have to solve,” said Quallen. “It’s the only thing that actually distracts me enough right now.”

Quallen focused on moving up the vertical wall one tiny, fake rock at a time; just his fingertips and toes making contact.

Wyoming Department of Education

Following the recent shootings in Florida and Kentucky, educators and policymakers across the country are asking questions about school safety and security. Last year Wyoming’s state legislature made it possible for local school boards to decide as a community whether or not to arm trained staff.

WyoTecg logo
WyoTech

The future of WyoTech, the automotive school in Laramie, has been in limbo for five months, following the Zenith Education Group’s announcement it would be downsizing. But lawmakers have earmarked $5 million in the budget bill to help WyoTech stay open under new management.

 

Wyoming State Legislature

As the budget session comes to a close, there’s still no conclusion on how to fund education. The House wants to use sales tax from online purchases and other new sources of revenue, while the Senate prefers to dip into reserve funding and reduce spending on education.

 

WCADVSA

A bill strengthening how stalking offenders are prosecuted and sentenced is moving through the Wyoming legislature.

 

But Tara Muir, Public Policy Director with the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said the bill has met debate every step of the way. She said lawmakers have been caught up on whether a prosecutor has to prove a victim suffered a substantial amount of fear. Muir added most states are moving towards an objective test that focuses on the behavior of the perpetrator.

 

Tennessee Watson

A senate bill proposing over $40 million in cuts to education over the next several years died in the House Education Committee Friday.

 

Committee members raised concerns about proposed increases in class sizes, as well as, a change to how the state adjusts funding when districts have declining enrollment. Currently, if districts lose students, their funding decreases based on a three-year rolling average. The proposed legislation wanted decreases to take effect within one year.

 

istockphoto.com

Representatives from the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges testified before the Senate Education Committee Friday asking lawmakers to approve a bill that would create a common transcript.

 

Currently, UW and the community colleges use separate systems for awarding course credits. Casper Senator Bill Landen said that means students end up losing credits and having to retake classes. He said his own daughter brought this issue to his attention.

 

A school classroom with desks and a chalkboard
CC0 Creative Commons

When school shootings occur, the country collectively asks: what needs to happen to keep students safe? What does it take to identify students who are struggling and get them support? Wyoming Public Radio’s education reporter Tennessee Watson sat down with University of Wyoming Professor of Counseling's Mary Alice Bruce and graduate student Ken Hilton to talk about how school counselors fit into the conversation about safe schools.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/lupuca/8720604364

If the Wyoming Department of Education has its way, kids across the state will be guaranteed access to computer science education. Bills have passed in both the House and Senate, which would require districts to offer computer science courses.

 

But those bills differ slightly. Dicky Shanor, Chief of Staff for the Wyoming Department of Education, said the Senate’s version of the bill is stronger because it treats computer science has a stand-alone knowledge area, where as the House places it under career and technical education.

Wyoming State Historical Society

The Wyoming House passed a bill to create a day commemorating Estelle Reel. She was the first woman elected to a statewide office in 1894, as the Superintendent of Public Instruction.  

 

While the majority of lawmakers wanted to recognize Reel’s accomplishment, House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly said Reel’s discriminatory attitude toward Native Americans and women should make them think twice.

 

Connolly said she researched Reel and read multiple articles.

 

Tennessee Watson

Legislation to further cut education funding is making its way through the Wyoming legislature. Wednesday a bill sponsored by Senator Ray Peterson proposing approximately $140 million in cuts was discussed in committee.

 

Those reductions would be achieved through increased state control over district expenditures. Currently school districts have block grants, which they spend how they see fit. State accountability measures are in place to guarantee that spending benefits the educational needs of kids.

 

 

graphic elements from erinslaw.org with modifications by Tennessee Watson

Survivors of child sexual abuse and advocates testified before the Senate Education Committee Wednesday. They urged lawmakers to support the implementation of Erin’s Law in Wyoming. The legislation first passed in Illinois following the advocacy of survivor Erin Merryn, and has now passed in a total of 31 states.

 

CC0 Creative Commons

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.

 

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