This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Fifth-grade science students at Lakeview Elementary School struggle with the word “composition.” That’s obvious, because their teacher is holding a test results chart lit up with green lines for right answers — except for that ugly red line at number 49: “A student is trying to determine if the composition of ice cubes affects the melting point. Which will be the best investigation to use?” “What it’s composed of means what it’s made of,” science teacher Claire Baltz explains.
State tests emphasize students sharing rewards and risks of results State test week in public schools has always been a high-trapeze balancing act. But the pressure is especially high this year. The scores from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests now count for 35 percent of teachers’ evaluation scores. With stakes that high, Tennessee legislators wanted to make sure students have some skin in the game too.
Running through the halls and watching movies in the gym doesn’t sound like any way to prepare for one of the most important tests students face in a given year. But that’s the sort of thing that was happening at La Vergne Middle School Friday night, with the blessing of the school’s principal. Principal Cary Holman presented the idea of a lock-in to his staff and students shortly after winter break as a way to de-stress before this week’s TCAP testing sessions.
State tourism officials have launched the Screaming Eagle trail through eight Tennessee counties. It travels 353 miles through the counties of Benton, Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Houston, Humphreys, Montgomery and Stewart. It is the 13th of 16 self-guided driving tours in the Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways program. There are 76 tourism sites, including Fort Campbell, the Loretta Lynn Ranch and Fort Donelson. The Screaming Eagle Trail takes its name from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell.
Tennessee’s GED test is about to go through its largest overhaul since the exam’s inception in 1942. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the test will cost more, must be taken on a computer and will contain significant content changes, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The revised test — which covers the subject areas of writing, reading, science, social studies and math — will be more rigorous in general and requires a higher level math proficiency.
Woodland Street Bridge Work to last for 13 weeks Several East Nashville merchants say they saw an impact from the Interstate 24 weekend closures and fear things could get worse. The Tennessee Department of Transportation began its 13-week bridge replacement project on Friday, closing a three-mile section of I-24 in both directions between the I-40 and I-65 splits near LP Field through this morning. Main and Woodland streets from South Fifth Street to Interstate Drive also were closed as well as the I-24 on-ramps at Shelby Avenue and Spring Street.
Lawmakers hope to adjourn by week’s end Tennessee lawmakers are preparing for what they hope is the last week of the 107th General Assembly, though issues that still need to be worked out include the state’s annual spending plan, proposals to change the way the state selects Supreme Court justices and a resilient effort to ban teaching about gay issues in schools. Also still pending is a dispute between business groups and gun advocates over a bill seeking to guarantee that employees have a right to store firearms their cars while at work.
Propose increases for education, health care Democrats in the legislature are proposing a larger food tax reduction than Republicans already plan, increased higher-education funding to offset planned tuition increases, and restoring other health and education spending the governor has proposed to cut. They also propose increasing funding for need-based scholarships, and using more cash and less bond debt to pay for the building projects in Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget.
In an apparent nod to public pressure and the exodus of corporate members like Coca-Cola and Kraft, the American Legislative Exchange Council last week announced it was getting out of the guns and ballots game. The organization — better known as ALEC — said it was eliminating its Public Safety and Elections task force in order to “sharpen [its] focus on jobs, free markets and growth.” Unmentioned was that task force’s fundamental involvement in the spate of new voter requirements and gun laws being pushed through state legislatures around the country.
Wrapping up the mayor’s budget hearing with the Metro Public Works department, the city’s finance director Rich Riebeling had just one more question. Could officials discuss their hopes for future street-paving, sidewalk and bike-lane projects? “There’s some big needs in the department capital-wise,” Riebeling explained at the event last month, turning to the other two members of Metro’s Big Three, Mayor Karl Dean himself and Deputy Mayor Greg Hinote.
Some Tenn. counties like third world The average life expectancy of the residents of some Tennessee counties is on par with the life expectancies in some of the healthiest countries — Sweden, for example. But in others, residents, on average, don’t outlive people in some of the world’s poorest African countries or former Russian states. That’s the conclusion of a study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, presented last week at the Association of Health Care Journalists national conference in Atlanta. Institute researchers provided a look at nearly every county in every U.S. state, using death records to track the life expectancy by age, gender and, when possible, by race, from 1989 to 2009.
Matthew Deniston, the only independent candidate in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District race, said he’ll refuse the customary $174,000 congressional salary and work for free if he wins. “I don’t need 175 grand,” the McDonald, Tenn., resident said. “I sell solar panels, so hopefully I’ll sell enough to support myself.” Deniston also said that, if he reaches Capitol Hill, he’s not sure he’ll hire any help — not a legislative director, not a press secretary, maybe not even an administrative assistant.
Congress weighs bills to guard against growing online threats Businesses, utilities, government agencies and research organizations in Tennessee will be watching closely this week as Congress considers a slate of bills to combat cyberattacks. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has called cyberattacks “the most quickly evolving and most troubling set of threats” that her department sees, and technology experts say those threats could hit close to home in Tennessee.
When Georgia passed a law last year authorizing the local police to question and detain illegal immigrants, Darvin Eason felt the impact immediately on his farms here in south Georgia. At the peak of the harvest, many of the Mexican workers he had relied on to pick his blackberries were scared away from the state. Ripe berries fell to the ground uncollected, and Mr. Eason lost $20,000 — even though the sections of the law that struck fear in the immigrants had been suspended by federal courts.
The government plans to announce today that the 2010 health care law will save Medicare beneficiaries $208 billion through 2020, and save Medicare itself $200 billion through 2016, based on a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services actuary report “We have achieved significant tangible savings that have been passed on to beneficiaries,” said Jonathan Blum, director of the Center for Medicare. “There’s a tremendous opportunity for even greater savings.”
Digital textbooks have gotten a lot of ink in recent months. In January, Apple attracted attention when it announced its foray into the field with the iBook, a multimedia-rich textbook for the iPad produced by the biggest educational publishers and costing less than $15. The next month Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, unveiled the Obama administration’s Digital Learning Playbook, and called for all students to use digital textbooks by 2017.
The Urban League of Greater Chattanooga is joining forces with other local organizations to support small businesses. “Our ultimate goal is to develop a center where we can offer additional resources for entrepreneurs,” Nicole Burney, program director of the Urban League’s Entrepreneur Center, said. The Urban League’s program is part of a larger, statewide effort to support small businesses. Last year, as part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s economic development plan, The Company Lab became one of the state’s nine regional entrepreneurial accelerators.
Arizona’s campaign to push out illegal immigrants heads to the Supreme Court this week, in the second major challenge to federal power the justices have taken up in less than a month. The Obama administration argues a 2010 Arizona measure aimed at fighting illegal immigration conflicts with federal law. The state law requires police to check the immigration status of people they stop if suspicious of their right be in the U.S. It also makes it a crime for immigrants without work permits to seek employment.
Kansas City, Mo., Must Set Aside Millions as Complex Falls Short of Projections The tab is mounting for this Midwestern city on a bet it made during the real-estate boom on an $850 million entertainment district meant to breathe new life into its struggling downtown. While the eight-block restaurant, nightclub and retail complex named the Power & Light District is mostly complete, traffic and sales are well below initial projections when construction started in 2006.
As this week begins in the state Legislature, Senate Bill 3279 on child custody and support is making its way through the legislative process. Its companion House Bill 3468 was passed with 85 votes for and 7 votes against. Our representatives in the House voted for the bill. The bill has been sent to Calendar and Rules in the Senate. Simply stated, the bill allows the court, in its discretion, to order child support for postsecondary education up to age 23.
Conserving the state’s natural resources usually draws strong support, but discussions about how to manage those resources can create sharp divisions. The aim, of course, is to continue talking, keep the health of the resources as a priority, work for consensus and not allow the divisions to control the agenda. That is what a group of stakeholders did recently in developing a reforestation plan for the northern portion of the Cherokee National Forest.
More Hispanic college graduates: Providing support to encourage Hispanic students to attend college will help area thrive. There is a segment of Greater Memphis’ population that is rarely mentioned in discussions about efforts to produce high school graduates who are job or college ready. The area’s growing Hispanic population means schools are educating a growing number of Hispanics, many of whom aren’t proficient in English. For a variety of reasons, too many members of this group who make it through elementary and high school aren’t seeking post-secondary degrees.