This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman today announced that three new Tennessee schools focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) will open in Hamilton, Putnam and Sullivan counties. The new schools will be funded through Tennessee’s Race to the Top grant award and will be part of the education department’s statewide STEM Innovation Network, designed to increase student participation and interest in those subjects. “Bringing together partners from across our communities to educate Tennessee students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math is so important to the future prosperity of our state,” Haslam said.
Hamilton, Putnam and Sullivan counties will open new schools focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) State officials announced Monday they are Prescott South in Cookeville; Northeast STEM Platform School with East Tennessee State University as a partner; and a school yet to be named in Chattanooga. There already are existing STEM schools at Stratford Magnet High School in Nashville and L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville. The new schools will be funded through Tennessee’s Race to the Top grant and will be part of the statewide STEM innovation network. The new schools are being funded with $1 million each.
Gov. Bill Haslam today announced plans to spread science, technology, engineering and math initiatives to more parts of the state. The Republican governor and various state and local education officials gathered in Nashville for the announcement of more STEM initiatives. A collaboration among business and educational circles, STEM aims to better prepare the future workforce for industry. Metro government has supported STEM initiatives, as well — the announcement was at the Stratford STEM Magnet School in Nashville. Today’s announcement includes $4.85 million in new money for schools in Chattanooga, Cookeville and the Tri-Cities area.
Tennessee will dedicate three new schools to so-called STEM disciplines – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The million-dollar grants for each school come from federal Race to the Top money the state won two years ago. The three new STEM schools will be in Cookeville, Chattanooga and the Tri-Cities area. That’s on top of one already in Knoxville, as well as Stratford STEM Magnet High in Nashville. Stratford Principal Michael Steele says when it comes to readying more students for careers as engineers and scientists, it’s a case of better late than never: “We’ve been needing STEM initiative (since) 20 years ago, not waiting until now. So it’s a good thing that we’re doing it now; we’re taking it seriously now. We should never be the followers in any category living in the United States of America.”
Now that Tennessee has given Hamilton County Schools a $1 million grant to help start a local school focused on science, technology, engineering and math, the “hard work begins,” Superintendent Rick Smith said. “We’re excited. We worked really, really hard the last, gosh, eight months to prepare for today,” said Smith, who came to Nashville on Monday to watch Gov. Bill Haslam announce a total of $4.85 million in grants to fund three STEM schools and three STEM “hubs” in Hamilton, Cookeville and the Tri-Cities area. “Of course,” Smith added, “right now the hard work begins. You know, we’ve got a lot of preparation … but now we’ve got to get busy actually building a school.”
A new middle school will soon be open for students in Sullivan County and Kingsport focusing on Science and Math. It is part of Tennessee’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program. Governor Bill Haslam announced Monday that our region will receive more than one million dollars to set up the new STEM school, and local educators say it will improve our student’s education. “My favorite project in science was when we built roller coasters to figure out about kinetic energy,” said 11-year-old Abby Nash. Fifth-grader Abby Nash loves Science and Math, especially, when she gets to do experiments.
Sullivan County and Kingsport have won a two-year $1.5 million grant for a STEM platform school, Gov. Bill Haslam and Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman announced Monday morning. The Northeast STEM platform school, to be a grades 6-8 school in the Brookside Elementary School building, is to receive $1 million, while the hub, East Tennessee State University, is to get $500,000. The science, technology, engineering and math grants also were won by proposals in Hamilton and Putnam counties.
Two key pieces of legislation in Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s anti-crime package have passed the Senate. A proposal that would increase penalties for violent crimes committed by groups of three or more people was unanimously approved 30-0 on Monday evening. A measure that would enhance penalties for gun possession by people with previous felony convictions was also unanimously approved 29-0. The companion to both proposals is waiting to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. A proposal that would require mandatory jail time for people with repeat domestic violence convictions has stalled in the finance committees of both chambers because of cost concerns to local governments.
Gov. Bill Haslam spoke to reporters about several issues Monday morning following an event to praise the state’s drive to bring more jobs to Tennessee by focusing schools on science, technology, engineering and math. One item reporters discussed with Haslam was a bill, SB0893, which intends to protect teachers “from discipline for teaching scientific subjects in an objective manner.” The governor also addressed bills on making public the names of doctors who perform abortions and culling the horse population. He said his administration would take the long view when considering new spending in light of increased revenues. The event took place at Stratford STEM Magnet High school.
Governor Bill Haslam declined to comment today on an East Tennessee lawmaker accused of hitting his wife over the weekend. Representative David Hawk pled not guilty after being arrested Sunday morning. Earlier this year Governor Haslam made domestic violence a part of his public safety agenda, with a push for higher fines and jail time. Haslam says it’s a major issue in the state. He wouldn’t speak directly to the news of Hawk’s arrest. “In regards to Representative Hawk’s case, I obviously don’t know enough to have any comment on it. I know what you did: I know what I read in the paper, and that’s really it. So I don’t know that it’s appropriate for me to comment on something that, all I know about is the actual arrest event.”
Governor Bill Haslam says he wants to find out more about a bill that would make public more details concerning abortions. The proposal would require the state health department to publish the names of doctors who perform abortions. A Planned Parenthood official says the bill could expose doctors to intimidation or even violence. Critics also say it could help identify women who receive abortions in rural areas, because it would release details like age, race, education, marital status and how many children they have.
Gov. Bill Haslam has yet to take a position on a bill seeking to encourage horse slaughterhouses in Tennessee. The Republican governor told reporters after a visit to a Nashville high school on Monday that he understands that proponents believe slaughtering horses within the state is a more humane way to treat unwanted animals. But Haslam said his administration has yet to take a formal position on the bill scheduled for a vote on the House floor Monday evening. Opponents of the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden argue that it would unfairly discourage legal challenges of horse slaughter or processing plants by requiring plaintiffs to submit a deposit worth 20 percent of the facility’s building costs.
Two weeks after bands of tornadoes wrecked portions of Tennessee and Hamilton County, President Barack Obama has issued a “major disaster” declaration for the state, triggering the release of federal relief funds. Over a three-day span, the storms took three lives and destroyed more than 100 homes, including 82 in Hamilton County. Along with Hamilton, the federal government will provide individual assistance to victims in Bradley, Claiborne, Cumberland, DeKalb, Jackson, McMinn, Monroe, Overton and Polk counties.
Commissioner Karla Davis of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has warned the state’s 56,000 unemployment claimants that they will soon be required to prove they are looking for work. Davis said that beginning in April, claimants also will be required to meet face-to-face with state job service employees. She said in a news release Monday that the new requirements will make sure claimants are on track to find employment and not get caught off-guard when their benefits expire. The new guidelines have been issued by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The good news is the General Educational Development test to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma is moving online. The bad news is the cost of taking the test is expected to go up to $125 starting in 2014. No testing center in the state can charge more than $65 for the test currently, and the state is prohibited from providing funding to pay for taking the test. “We imagine it will be a significant barrier to a number of individuals,” said Karla Davis, Tennessee commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, during a visit to Memphis last week.
A proposal that would extend a program providing services to young adults transitioning out of foster care is headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure was approved 33-0 in the Senate on Monday evening. The companion bill was approved 96-1 in the House last week. The program is set to expire in June, but Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has included about $890,000 in his spending proposal to keep it going. Country singer Jimmy Wayne, who sang the national anthem before the Senate session on Monday, is an advocate of the legislation. Last month, he told a state House committee about being a homeless teen until a couple took him when he was 16.
A proposal that would allow teachers to remove disruptive students from Tennessee classrooms has passed the Senate. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville was unanimously approved 31-0 on Monday evening. The measure would apply to students in grades five through 12. Under the proposal, principals must “fully support the authority of every teacher … to remove a student from the classroom.” The companion to the Senate bill is awaiting a vote in the House Finance Subcommittee.
The Tennessee Senate approved a bill Monday that would encourage teachers and students to debate evolution in the classroom, setting aside complaints that the measure would drag the state back onto the battleground over the teaching of creationism. Senators voted 24-8 to pass a bill that says schoolteachers cannot be punished for “helping students to understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories” taught in public schools.
State senators on Monday approved a bill they say protects teachers when discussing the “strengths and scientific weaknesses” of scientific theories such as evolution and climate change. But several lawmakers and scientists said they still have concerns it could be used to introduce religious teachings into public school science classes. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, passed on a 24-8 vote. Because of a Watson amendment that seeks to calm a storm of controversy over the bill in scientific circles, the bill now goes back to the House, which passed a different version of the measure last year.
All eight Tennessee members of the National Academy of Sciences, including a Nobel laureate, are criticizing efforts by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, to revive his bill allowing science teachers to discuss with students the “weaknesses” of theories about evolution, the chemical origins of life and global warming. Watson’s bill, which triggered a storm of criticism last year, passed the Senate Education Committee last week and is up for a Senate floor vote today. The eight scientists include Vanderbilt University biochemist Dr. Stanley Cohen, who shared a 1986 Nobel Prize in medicine for his landmark research on cellular growth factors. All eight signed a statement opposing the legislation. “These bills misdescribe evolution as scientifically controversial,” the statement says.
A West Tennessee lawmakers is pushing a bill he says will give Christian students – but also other religious students – a chance to voice their beliefs at school. Representative Andy Holt, a Dresden Republican, is trying to get school boards to set a new policy. If the school has an event at which a student speaks, the school must arrange a “limited public forum” at which other students could speak. And those students wouldn’t be barred from talking about their religious beliefs. Holt says he believes groups have been given the right to speak in favor of their beliefs, except for one – “exclusively Christians.”
The Tennessee legislature is considering a bill that would “encourage” the location of horse slaughterhouses and processing plants in Tennessee. The bill would also make it difficult for citizens who live near the proposed slaughterhouse sites to challenge them in court. The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said he sees it as both a jobs bill and one that’s more compassionate because horses sent to slaughter now are transported to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, where the closest plants are currently located.
Last week, State Senator Eric Stewart brought up a bill that would put heavy restrictions on a coal mining called practice mountaintop removal. It involves blasting the top of a mountain to reach coal that would be hard to get to otherwise. But Stewart’s bill was changed—he says in such a way to make it totally ineffective. WPLN’s Bradley George talks with Capitol reporter Joe White.
President/CEO Hercules, others taking message to state legislature today United Ways of Tennessee, an association of 38 United Ways in the state, will gather today for its Hill Day to support preservation of funding for pre-k classrooms and restoration of funding for family resource centers. Brian Hercules, president and CEO, Meagan Flippin, senior director of impact, and Carolyn Tumbleson, director of resource development, who represent United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties, will be among those in Nashville today, along with Don Witherspoon from Murfreesboro, who serves on the board of directors of United Way of Tennessee.
State Rep. Mike McDonald, a Portland Democrat, announced Monday that he would not seek re-election to the 44th House District he has served for 18 years. McDonald said in a prepared statement that he made the decision “after thoughtful consideration and conversations” with his family. First elected in 1994, the Portland farmer and former educator has been a popular voice for his district, perhaps known best as a champion for conservation and environmental issues. McDonald thanked Sumner voters who elected him to nine terms and said he looked forward to opportunities in the private sector and spending more time with family.
Rep. David Hawk returned to the state legislature on Monday afternoon, just hours after his first court appearance on a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence resulted in an order for the Greeneville Republican to have no contact with his wife. Hawk accepted handshakes and well wishes from fellow lawmakers at his desk before stepping out of the chamber to meet with reporters. “Yesterday morning my wife had a gun and told me that she was going to put a bullet in my head while I was holding my baby,” Hawk said.
State Rep. David Hawk has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor domestic assault charge. The Greeneville Sun reports (http://bit.ly/ws76T2) Hawk’s wife told deputies that her husband struck her in the face and knocked her to the ground during an altercation on Sunday morning in their home. The criminal complaint states the victim “had bruising and swelling on and around her right eye.” The 43-year-old Hawk is free on $500 bond. At a Monday hearing, Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr. ordered Hawk to have no contact with his wife.
As a locksmith changed the locks on the home Crystal Hawk shares with her husband, she reacted to the state representative’s account of Sunday’s alleged crime. “I’ve heard my husband’s statement and that’s just simply a misrepresentation of the facts,” Crystal Hawk said. “However, at this time for the safety of my daughter I’m requesting privacy for my whole family, including myself and my husband.” The Hawks were married in November 2009. After a brief court appearance Monday, Rep. David Hawk (R – District 5) walked out of the Greene County jail just before 10:00 am and read a prepared statement. “I am innocent and did not do what was alleged against me,” Hawk said.
State Rep. David Hawk pleaded not guilty to domestic assault charges placed against him following his Sunday arrest at his Greene County home after his wife reported to officials that Hawk grabbed and struck her during an altercation. Hawk, 43, was arrested by officials with the Greene County Sheriff’s Department. According to the affidavit of complaint filed in Greene County Sessions Court, the sheriff’s department was contacted in reference to a domestic assault report. The affidavit states Hawk committed the offense by striking, grabbing and knocking to the ground his wife, Crystal Hawk.
A new list puts Tennessee eighth in the nation for government transparency and accountability. But that high ranking is despite a score for the state that’s hardly stellar. The study was carried out by Global Integrity, which evaluates governments worldwide, and the investigative reporting agency Center for Public Integrity, or CPI. It looked at what laws are on the books to prevent corruption and how states actually carry them out. Overall, Tennessee earned just a C. But the CPI’s Nathaniel Heller says that was enough for a top ten ranking because no state did very well.
Tennessee gets a solid ‘C’ grade in a “State Integrity Investigation” report that analyzes state governments’ accountability and risk for corruption. Even with the average mark, though, Tennessee ranked No. 8 in the nation in the study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity. Georgia, by comparison, ranked dead last in the country based on, among other issues, cutting funding to its ethics commission and government officials receiving gifts from vendors. Tennessee was cited for establishing an ethics commission six years ago.
Final vote on assessment to cover $17M deficit Hard choices are on the agenda today for Memphis City Council members and Mayor A C Wharton’s administration as they confront a budget deficit: Increase taxes, make deep cuts to city services and projects, or both. The 13-member council is scheduled to hold a final vote this afternoon on a proposed one-time, 18.68-cent property tax assessment. Council members and administration officials said Monday that a tax hike was likely, although it will probably be smaller than the one originally sought by Wharton.
Over the 45 minutes it took for county workers to haul protesters’ belongings from the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn to the city sidewalk, members of the Occupy Chattanooga movement questioned the sheriff and video-recorded the removal of their 133-day encampment. “This is out of nowhere; we had no notice whatsoever,” said James Parks, 27, an Occupy protester who came to Chattanooga a month ago. When reached by phone late Monday afternoon, Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry said he didn’t see any reason to give the protesters advance notice.
Chattanooga’s first congressional debate of the year will not include the GOP’s U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, Scottie Mayfield or Weston Wamp. Instead, it’ll feature the Democrats hoping to stop them. On March 27, Maynardville physician Mary Headrick and Chattanooga businessman Bill Taylor will debate “issues crucial to the 3rd [Congressional] District” at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, according to a news release. Each candidate will be given time to present a platform before a moderated question-and-answer session with the audience.
A federal judge has ruled that the state may not enforce several rules that minor political parties claim are roadblocks to their candidates getting elected. On Friday, U.S. District Judge William Haynes Jr. refused to stay his earlier decision requiring the state to hold a random drawing to determine which candidate’s name goes first on the November general election ballot. The ruling is part of a lawsuit jointly filed against the state by the Green Party and Constitution Party, which claim that the state has imposed unconstitutional hurdles to third parties running for election in Tennessee.
The upcoming Supreme Court arguments over the 2010 health care overhaul could be a game-changer for Nashville’s biggest industry. Many health care companies are depending on the controversial requirement that everyone purchase insurance. Industry executives say requiring everyone to buy insurance is essential to making the economics of the Affordable Care Act work for both insurers and medical providers, which make up much of Nashville’s health care industry. Lyle Denniston is the dean emeritus of the Supreme Court Press Corps. The High Court is considering multiple legal issues, but he says foremost is the so-called individual mandate.
Pool owners face new ADA accessibility regulation New federal regulations requiring chair lifts and other renovations to public swimming pools went into effect Thursday, March 15, but the tangle of new requirements is leaving many pool owners treading water while they wait for clarity on the rules. The update to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991 was passed in 2010 and is designed to make public facilities – including the swimming pools in many hotels and health clubs – more accessible for the disabled.
Gay marriage wouldn’t have passed in the Washington State Legislature this year without Governor Chris Gregoire’s decision to reverse course and push for it. Legislators’ personal pleas to colleagues, as epitomized by Republican Representative Maureen Walsh’s passionate floor speech about her desire to throw her daughter a wedding someday, also played a major role. The speech went viral on YouTube. But according to the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Senator Ed Murray, there was nothing more crucial to the legalization of gay marriage than support from high-profile businesses such as Nike and Microsoft.
It was a historic year for the United States solar energy industry in 2011. The market for photovoltaic installations continued to boom, as the U.S. installed 1,855 megawatts of PV (photovoltaic) infrastructure, representing 109 percent growth over 2010, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight 2011 Year-In-Review Report. The report also said that the fourth quarter of 2011 saw 776 megawatts of PV installed, by far the most of any quarter in U.S. history. Tennessee jumped up in the rankings of solar installations.
Mild winter, early spring weather are boon to area farmers and gardeners The mild winter and early spring weather have farmers and gardeners working feverishly to plant their crops, vegetable gardens and flowers. That will mean that this year’s vegetables from area farms probably will get to market sooner, extending the selling season and bolstering farm revenues, said George Kilgore, director of the Davidson County office of the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service. “We’re about two weeks ahead of schedule in our weather conditions, and a lot of the cool-season crops have gone to the field early, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, potatoes and onions,” he said.
Research predicts second wave of foreclosures in Middle TN Just as it appears that the worst of Middle Tennessee’s foreclosure crisis has passed, new research suggests that 2012 may usher in a second wave of foreclosures in the Nashville area. In 2011, about 11 percent of home sales in the Nashville metro area were foreclosure-related, which is a 31 percent drop from 2010, according to a review of records from data firm RealtyTrac. As regulators increased scrutiny of lenders’ hasty foreclosure procedures in recent years, banks have taken a longer time to repossess properties, according to RealtyTrac’s Daren Blomquist.
Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register has proposed a $722.4 million budget for the next fiscal year, a sizeable $48.3 million increase over current education spending to account for a combination of mandatory and proposed new expenditures. Register’s budget is the subject of a public hearing Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the district’s school board meeting room. From there, it goes before the nine-member school board for a vote on April 10 before budget hearings begin with Mayor Karl Dean’s administration.
The Metro Nashville school board is holding a public hearing at 5 p.m. today on its proposed operating budget for the coming school year. The hearing gives residents a chance to see the itemized proposed costs the district estimates it will spend and then allow them to weigh in. It’s at the school district’s main office, 2601 Bransford Ave. The proposed budget is $722 million for fiscal year 2012-13, which is a $48 million or 7 percent increase from the current year. Part of the proposed increase is raising starting teacher pay to $40,000 per year, an added $6 million cost.
The board of Metro Schools will hear from the public (tomorrow night/tonight) regarding its proposed $722 million budget. Overall, the proposal represents growth of more than 7 percent – close to $50 million. The largest increase not considered mandatory is a boost in the starting pay for teachers, which will cost the district nearly $6 million. In recent years, the Metro Council has given the school district all of the money it asked for. By far, the city spends more on education than any other part of government. And this year Mayor Karl Dean is increasingly expected to ask for his first property tax hike to make ends meet.
Schools outside city that serve a lot of the town’s students will get piece of action Brentwood — the only city in Williamson County that contributes extra money to the county-run schools in town — is about to sweeten the pot. Schools that aren’t in the city limits but have Brentwood students can now get a piece of the annual funding pie after the City Commission agreed to the change in Brentwood’s Educational Contributions Policy. The change is important as growth ramps back up in Brentwood and makes school rezoning a recurring need, and as decisions are made on building a high school in the Nolensville area.
Memphis City and Shelby County schools officials Monday night delivered grim news about their proposed budgets for next year to the unified school board, prompting board member Jeff Warren to ask: “Where’s our $57 million?” He was referring to the money the courts have ordered the city to pay Memphis City Schools because of a funding shortfall in 2008, when the City Council tried to shed its traditional supplemental funding for education to MCS and the district sued. Most unified board members know members of the City Council, board chairman Billy Orgel noted, so perhaps now’s the time to “press our case.”
Property tax rate may have to double for own district Millington residents remained interested in starting a municipal school district, even though there weren’t answers to many of their questions at a public meeting Monday night. “This is a very, very difficult decision on everyone’s part,” interim Mayor Linda Carter told a crowd of about 100 residents at the Millington Civic Center. “There is much concern, much distrust, much anger, many questions and we are all in the middle of it.” Carter encouraged them to “pray for divine intervention.”
Officials with proposed charter school Jackson Preparatory Academy could soon make their case in a public hearing after a ruling in their favor by the state Treasury Department. State Treasurer David Lillard Jr., wrote in a nine-page opinion that the creation of Jackson Preparatory Academy would not have a substantial negative fiscal impact on Jackson-Madison County Schools. In his opinion, Lillard wrote that while the local public school district provided information about the loss in revenue it would experience with a transfer of students to the charter school, it did not provide an analysis showing the district could not absorb the loss of 95 to 190 students when the normal student enrollment fluctuations are about 253 students a year.
There is no shortage of vital issues for Tennessee’s Legislature to be considering right now. With state tax revenue visibly recovering from the Great Recession — revenues for the past seven straight months have generated $238 million more than at this point last year — lawmakers and Gov. Bill Haslam should be thinking about restoring vital funding cut last year from children’s services, education and health care. Neglected state infrastructure needs should also be on the table. But those aren’t state government’s priorities. Haslam is busy pushing a dicey program to incentivize economic development by giving taxpayer dollars — that is to say, real cash — to companies to induce them to locate or expand in Tennessee.
What is Tennessee to do when its lawmakers become lawbreakers? We are not talking about state Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville, charged last October with DUI while carrying a loaded handgun; or Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville, arrested just two days ago on a domestic violence charge. We’re talking about a legislature that identifies abortion doctors to violent fanatics. Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet and other sponsors of the ironically named “Life Defense Act of 2012” are seeking to do just that, with legislation to post online the names of abortion doctors in Tennessee.
Opponents of Tennessee’s commonsense law requiring that voters present legitimate photo identification at the ballot box have tried to portray the law as sharply dividing public opinion and creating needless strife. But nothing could be further from the truth. Amid all the baseless accusations that the photo ID law was designed as a sneaky way to disenfranchise the elderly or minorities or the poor, Middle Tennessee State University conducted an opinion poll that included a question about the law. As reported by Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper, the poll found that 82 percent of state residents believe the law is “a good idea that should be kept in place.” By contrast, only 11 percent think the law is “a bad idea that should be done away with.”
The fight over Tennessee’s controversial voter ID law has centered on its compliance with the U.S. Constitution, but the real battlefield might lie closer to home. A judge in Madison, Wisc., recently ruled that Wisconsin’s voter ID law violated that state’s constitution. While the Wisconsin Supreme Court likely will have the final say upon appeal, observers in Tennessee should look closely at the similarities between the two states’ constitutions and gauge the ramifications of a similar ruling in the Volunteer State. In Wisconsin’s constitution, the only classes of people barred from voting are felons and those judged by a court to be incompetent.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey sent out an interesting letter last week blaming the “liberal” media for proclaiming that Tennessee’s new voter photo ID law would disenfranchise voters across the state when, in fact, things went great and nobody lost their vote. Ramsey, a Blountville Republican, said opponents of the law had been screaming like Chicken Little and pointed toward headlines such as “Voter ID gets going without a hitch” as proof that it worked. In Rutherford County, though, it’s hard to tell exactly what happened. The night of the presidential preference primary, Administrator of Elections Nicole Lester said she knew of only one instance in which a woman had to fill out a provisional ballot that day because she didn’t have her photo ID at the polls.
In the past, Tennessee was rarely cited in a positive manner in national educational surveys. No more. The state was named Monday as one of two — New York is the other — where notable improvements in high school graduation rates contributed to the betterment of the national rate. Progress in Hamilton County mirrors the statewide gains. Gains in the two states helped improve the national rate by 3.5 percent from 2001-2009, the period studied by the America’s Promise Alliance, sponsor of the Grad Nation summit in the nation’s capital. That put the national rate in 2009 at 75 percent, a number than obviously requires improvement.
Tennessee and New York state share an admirable academic distinction: Both saw double-digit increases from 2002 to 2009 in the percentage of high school students who earn a diploma within four years. During that time period, Tennessee’s graduation rate climbed from an abysmal 59.6 percent to 77.4 percent. That improvement also means our state’s graduation rate is now above the nationwide average of 75 percent. Those aren’t just interesting statistics. They represent dramatically improved life and career prospects for many young people. On average, a high school graduate will earn about $130,000 more throughout his life than a high school dropout will earn. Graduates also contribute to the tax base and consume less government spending throughout their lives.
There is welcome news on the education front for the nation, and especially for Tennessee. High school graduation rates are up nationwide. Tennessee leads the nation with an 18 percent increase from 2001 to 2009. It appears the state’s education reforms are beginning to pay off, but there still is a long way to go. Nationwide, the high school graduation rate in 2009 stood at 75.5 percent, up from 72.6 percent in 2002. While that is good news, it is far from the goal of 90 percent. Only Wisconsin, at 90.7 percent, reached the benchmark. The nationwide increase was led by Tennessee (18 percent) and New York (13 percent). Statewide, in 2009, Tennessee public high schools graduated 77.4 percent of students in four years.
State governments have long been accused of backroom dealing, cozy relationships with moneyed lobbyists, and disconnection from ordinary citizens. A new study suggests those accusations barely scratch the surface. The study, issued Monday by a consortium led by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, found that most states shy away from public scrutiny, fail to enact or enforce ethics laws, and allow corporations and the wealthy a dominant voice in elections and policy decisions. The study gave virtually every state a mediocre to poor grade on a wide range of government conduct, including ethics enforcement, transparency, auditing and campaign finance reform.
AARP launches listening tour on Medicare, Social Security issues Don’t you think you should be included in conversations about your future — especially if they impact your retirement security? AARP does. That’s why are launching a listening tour. We want to hear your ideas about protecting and strengthening Medicare and Social Security. Medicare is facing financial challenges, especially due to ever-rising costs in the broader health-care system. The Medicare fund that pays hospital bills will face a shortfall in 2024. Social Security can pay all promised benefits until about 2036, but after that, it will be able to pay only 75 percent of benefits. You have paid into these critical programs all your working lives. Many of us still are.
There is a quiet movement that could dramatically change the way our country elects its president. This movement doesn’t alter our Constitution or give one political party advantage over another. This plan is a nonpartisan idea that merits consideration by our elected officials and affords each vote to carry the same weight nationwide. The plan is a compact between states for a national popular vote for president, awarding victory to the candidate who receives the most votes nationally. What a novel idea, since every other major election in our country is held in the same manner. So appealing is the plan to Americans, it is halfway to the 270 votes needed to put it in place, becoming law in eight states and passing 38 other state legislative chambers.