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

Senator Mike Enzi (R)

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming is calling for the Department of Education to audit the data it maintains on all student loan-related programs. Enzi, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, wrote a letter on February 23rd to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, drawing her attention to a coding error in the College Scorecard, a tool the feds created to help students explore college options.

University of Wyoming

The University of Wyoming has begun using a new data reporting system called WyoCloud. The intent of the cloud-based system is to enhance campus leaders’ decision-making capabilities.

Provost Kate Miller said the university is migrating all of its business information, student information, faculty information and human resources information to the system, where all of the data will be interlinked. The system will provide the ability to do advanced data analytics, which she said will move the university to cutting edge systems over the next several years.

Office of Governor Matt Mead

Now that the Wyoming Legislature has passed House Bill 236, school districts are standing by to see if Governor Matt Mead will sign onto the $34 million in cuts to education funding for the upcoming school year. The House and Senate reached a compromise on the bill Friday in the final hours of the 2017 Legislative Session.

If Mead signs it, the hard work of figuring out what and who to cut will begin immediately for district school boards, administrators and business managers.

Listen to the full show here. 

In Review: Wyoming's Legislative Session 2017

The Wyoming legislative session is wrapping up today and Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck joins Caroline Ballard to discuss this year’s work. 

Tennessee Watson

Across the United States, mobile and manufactured home owners are without the same access to the American Dream as their neighbors with site-built homes. That’s because mobile homes are often classified as personal property, like a car or a boat. And converting them to real property — like a house — can be complicated. But in Wyoming, one feisty homeowner decided to take action.  

Melodie Edwards

The State Legislature, Thursday, was still in the process of passing a bill intended to better help social studies teachers in Wyoming include the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone in their curriculum.

The bill passed the Senate, but with amended language that caused concern for Lander Representative Jim Allen who sponsored the bill.

Sheridan Senator Bruce Burns, whose district neighbors the Crow and Cheyenne reservations, pushed the Senate to strike Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone, and replace it with “tribes of the region.” 

University of Wyoming

The University of Wyoming has announced a plan to recruit, retain and graduate more undergraduates over the next five years. The plan is in response to a flat line in student enrollment numbers. Provost Kate Miller said becoming more student-centered is key to the plan’s vision. 

That means thinking about how non-academic factors like student wellness, financial literacy and sense of belonging play into a student’s overall academic success.

Bob Beck

No conclusive action was taken Thursday on House Bill 236 – the last standing piece of legislation, which addresses the $400 million education budget deficit.

Legislators and lobbyists expected the bill to come up for a concurrence vote on Thursday, but Speaker of the House Steve Harshman said he delayed action on the bill because he wanted one more day to work on it.  

“I’m going to actually sleep on it, and I’m gonna' keep working tonight on it,” said Harshman. “We’re still working. Working like dogs.” He added a few barks as he walked off down the hall.

Tennessee Watson

The Wyoming House of Representatives passed a bill to increase circuit court judge salaries Monday. 

Circuit court judges are currently paid an annual salary of $119,000 and the bill proposes an increase to $132,000.

There was concern expressed that now was not a great time to increase judges’ salaries, considering the widespread budget cuts affecting state employees and public education.

Tennessee Watson

A winter storm this week brought even more snow to the Tetons and the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort closed Tuesday because of high winds and avalanche danger. But, those spiny peaks aren’t the only place in Wyoming where snow must be approached with caution. Fresh powder beckons snow enthusiasts to get out and play. Every year, Wyoming sees multiple fatalities from avalanches. All you need is the wrong combination of terrain, snow and weather, and there could be a problem.

Wyoming Department of Education

February 23rd is Digital Learning Day. It’s appropriate then that on Thursday, the House took up Senate File 35 on virtual education. The bill, which updates guidelines for student enrollment in online classes, passed Committee of the Whole in the House, but not without being amended. An appropriation for $250,000 to establish a centralized statewide management system was removed.

State of Wyoming Legislature

On Thursday, the Wyoming House of Representatives Committee passed the first reading of a bill that would establish a council charged with studying and implementing a plan to diversify Wyoming’s economy. The bill would create the ENDOW Council (or Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming Council).

Lander Representative Jim Allen proposed an amendment adding a tribal member to the council, which he said fits with the stated mission of the council.

FLICKR

Wyoming is among the states with the highest proportion of people living in mobile homes, but they don’t have the same rights as other homeowners.

House Bill 56, which is now before the Senate, will fix an oversight in how mobile homes are titled.

Wyoming State Historical Society

In 1969, fourteen African-American football players were dismissed from the University of Wyoming team because they wanted to wear black armbands as a sign of protest in their upcoming game against the Mormon owned and operated Brigham Young University.

At the time the Mormon Church barred black men from the priesthood. The incident divided the UW community and broke the Cowboys winning streak that year. Education reporter Tennessee Watson talks to River Gayton, a high school student circulating a petition to increase awareness of the Black 14, and their decision to take a stand.

F.E. Warren Air Force Base

The F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne is one of three bases in the United States with an operational intercontinental ballistic missile system, and it’s due for an upgrade.

Northrop Grumman, along with Lockheed Martin and Boeing, are in the midst of a bidding process to get the job. Carol Erikson, Vice President of Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, visited Cheyenne Thursday to meet with local community leaders at the area Chamber of Commerce.

University of Wyoming

On Wednesday, the University of Wyoming launched a new sexual assault prevention program.

President Laurie Nichols sent a letter out to all UW community members citing concern with the prevalence of sexual assault in higher education.

According to her research about one in five women and 6 percent of men are victims of sexual assault while in college. In response she launched a working group to pull together diverse strategies into a comprehensive response, which she said is unique.

pixabay.com

People packed the Senate Education Committee meeting Wednesday to discuss House Bill 236 that will attempt to address the state’s education funding shortfall. The bill differs from the Senate approach to the problem in that it proposes some funding reductions, but holds off deep and immediate cuts to education by using legislative savings.

Should those savings dip to $500 million, a half percent sales and use tax would go into affect to generate more revenue. Representatives of the energy industry say that tax would hurt their industries.

Tennessee Watson

School business managers asked the legislature to remove a six percent interest on funds borrowed temporarily from the common school account. They also asked that schools be allowed to repay those funds in June instead of December. 

The bill narrowly passed the committee of the whole.

Proponents of the bill argued that penalizing schools doesn’t make sense when cash flow issues are caused by payment schedules decided by the state. The bill sailed through the House, but is now being met with scrutiny in the Senate.

Tennessee Watson

According to a bill that passed the Senate Monday, students at the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges should own the material they store on school servers and send in school email accounts. The bill further specifies that writing and correspondence will be kept private unless students are otherwise notified.

The bill passed by a narrow vote of 16 - 13, and is up for review by the governor.

Tennessee Watson

Wyoming schools use digital tools and software to support teaching and school operations, but a bill to protect digital student data was defeated on a tie vote.

The data includes everything from student name and home address to test results and cafeteria food purchases for children in preschool through 12th grade. The protections in the bill were meant to prevent the sale or sharing of this information, and to block the possibility of its usage for targeted advertising.

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. 

Pages