This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Education and workforce issues are the main topics of a two-day conference in Chattanooga beginning Monday hosted by Gov. Bill Haslam. According to a news release from the governor’s office, the gathering will focus on job and workforce trends, including the skills that leading businesses are looking for in their workers to remain competitive in the global marketplace. The conference marks the 40th anniversary of the Southern Growth Policies Board, of which Haslam is chairman.
Infant mortality, low birth weight are still concerns The well-being of children in Tennessee has improved over the last few years, according to the latest Kids Count State of the Child annual report. But the full report does highlight several issues that still need attention. Rodger Jowers, regional coordinator of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, said an issue of special concern is infant mortality and low birth weight in West Tennessee. “Our babies aren’t getting the best possible start we can give them,” Jowers said.
While college tuition rates have risen steadily over the past decade, the amount students actually have to pay on average has not grown as fast. After factoring in grants and scholarships, which have outpaced tuition increases, most of the area’s four colleges and universities’ net costs — students’ true out-of-pocket expenses — are well below the published tuition and fee increases. At Cleveland State Community College, students’ net cost actually shrank.
At some point, discussions about the quality of higher education in the U.S. come around to the subject of tenure. And the disagreement could hardly be more stark. Critics of tenure for college professors say it is ruining the education of millions of students. In pursuit of tenure, they say, professors have become experts at churning out research of questionable value while neglecting their teaching duties. On top of that, critics say, tenure has become the tool of a stifling orthodoxy in academia, rewarding only those whose views on curriculums, administration and finances are in line with the status quo.
An executive at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis has been appointed to judge Veterans Administration hospitals and other VA organizations. Dr. Donald C. Fisher will be one of six national judges for the Robert W. Carey Performance Excellence Award. It recognizes management approaches that help veterans. Fisher is executive director/CEO of the Mid-South Quality/Productivity Center, a partnership between the community college and the Greater Memphis Chamber.
Spurred by a classroom demonstration involving a sex toy, Tennessee recently enacted a pro-abstinence sex education law that is among the strictest in the nation. The most debated section of the bill bars educators from promoting “gateway sexual activity.” But supporters seemed too squeamish during floor debate to specify what that meant, so critics soon labeled it the “no holding-hands bill.” One thing missing from the debate in the legislature was a discussion of whether the law signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam last month really would help reduce Tennessee’s high teenage pregnancy rate.
Rep. Elam faces challenge from predecessor Lynn One of the hothouses of Tennessee’s tea party movement is once again nurturing a political fight — a much-watched race between two Republicans who have deep political roots in the area. Mt. Juliet, a bedrock GOP suburb and a launching pad for anti-income tax activists a decade ago, is serving as the battleground for the primary fight between state Rep. Linda Elam and her predecessor, former state Rep. Susan Lynn.
“Our entire community is faced with a critical time of decision,” declared a treatise published in both The Tennessean and Nashville Banner in October of 1956, a time when the city’s two daily newspapers steered public discourse. The essay, a joint product of Nashville and Davidson County’s planning commissions, described a “metropolitan problem,” and it framed the issue in stark terms. If the problem wasn’t solved, the area could “expect to be divided haplessly into a patchwork quilt of many small and ineffective governments and half governments.”
Urban design book offers big ideas for future Before: A six-lane interstate divides two Nashville neighborhoods. After: A mile-long “land bridge” over the highway connects The Gulch and Midtown with a grassy place to walk and play. Commercial developments soon spring up, facing the park from both sides, eager to be part of a lively new scene. It’s just an idea for now — one of many pictured in splashy detail in a new 300-page urban design book that local planners, developers, architects and officials have been using since April to think big about the future of Nashville and the region.
A Bradley County employee compensation study panel has achieved its first benchmark: commitments of cooperation from most of the county’s departments. Last week, the county Compensation Committee discussed the next steps to develop a uniform job and salary grade system that may include a merit pay program for all county employees. Panel officials agreed the lack of a countywide compensation plan should be addressed, as departments have been left to implement their own plans.
It’s the biggest secret in a city known for not keeping them. The nine Supreme Court justices and more than three dozen other people have kept quiet for more than two months about how the high court is going to rule on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul. This is information that could move markets, turn economies and greatly affect this fall’s national elections, including the presidential contest between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Richard Mourdock, the Republican Senate hopeful from Indiana, didn’t want to be caught flat-footed when the Supreme Court announced its highly anticipated decision on the fate of the health overhaul law. So he taped one-minute videos responding to four different scenarios: the court upholds the law; it knocks down part of the law; it invalidates the entire law; or it declines to rule on the case’s merits. His planning backfired when the videos surfaced online last week before the court had released its opinion.
State and local governments were hit hard by the recession. But even as they get a handle on their finances, more austere funding likely to come from the federal government and the burden of pension and health-care obligations have put their spending growth on a flatter trajectory. That’s good news for tomorrow’s economy if it puts cities and states on a path to better financial shape, but it is straining today’s recovery. Last year, spending and investment by state and local governments was $1.8 trillion, or 11.9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, which was $15.1 trillion.
Should this city’s red fire trucks be transformed into rolling billboards? After Baltimore officials made the wrenching decision to close three fire companies later this summer, the City Council initially sought to avert the cuts with a new money-raising strategy: it passed a resolution this month urging the administration to explore selling ads on the city’s fire trucks. It is far from clear whether corporate logos will be painted on Baltimore’s fire engines any time soon.
School cafeteria workers from all over Tennessee are learning how to make healthier entrees for students when they return for classes in the fall. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that workers met this month at four schools in Chattanooga for a Back to Basics program that taught workers how to cook made-from-scratch recipes instead of processed food such as chicken nuggets. The two-day program was a precursor to the School Nutrition Association conference that was also held in the city.
MTSU Aerospace Education workshop offers hands-on work Billy Coleman of Smyrna High School, Lee Martin of Daniel McKee, Eddie McGee of La Vergne Middle School and Nadeem Sabir and Denine Warner of Oakland High School are among 38 participants from 10 counties and 25 schools in Middle Tennessee. MTSU offers this three-week program for K-12 educators throughout Middle Tennessee. This year’s 38 participants in the basic course will be carrying back what they learn in various science disciplines to their respective classrooms.
MTSU is encouraging students to take advantage of CLS to fill a pressing need for more Americans to master these languages, and others, that are strategically important for commerce, diplomacy and humanitarianism. A Critical Language Scholarship provides undergraduates and graduate students with fully funded, group-based, intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment activities abroad for seven to 10 weeks. In 2011, CLS issued nearly 600 awards to U.S. citizen undergraduate and graduate students out of more than 5,200 applicants.
The development of greenways within cities is not new, but it is a growing and popular development. All three cities in our county are developing them or have completed at least some phase. Sevierville has its delightful riverwalk downtown, and now it is creating one away from downtown. That project got a big boost last week when Gov. Bill Haslam came to Sevierville to announce a a $423,833 grant from the state for the final phase of a system of greenway walking trails. The money will be used to complete Phase II of the new greenway network, which will connect the Eastgate area to LeConte Medical Center with a 10-foot-wide paved trail for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Once upon a time in Tennessee, there was always a job down at “the plant.” “The plant” meant something different in every town. Sometimes it meant sewing clothes, sometimes it meant bending or stamping metal or manufacturing a product. Hundreds of products were made in Tennessee and proudly stamped “Made in America.”Young people could aspire to high-paying jobs in the city or high-tech jobs in far-flung places but between high school and college, in the summers or while waiting to hear about the big job, there was always “the plant.” These jobs sustained many Tennessee families.
For better or worse, electronic communication — email and texting — has become the preferred communication choice in the United States. One significant casualty of that preference is handwriting. It’s rapidly becoming a lost art. Indeed, many schools no longer require the teaching of cursive writing. Despite the changes, there is one area where handwriting still prevails — in the dispensing of medical prescriptions. And that’s a problem. It’s a problem because hand-written prescriptions are often misread by those filling them. The result — providing the wrong medication or supplying the wrong instructions for a correctly filled prescription — can sometimes be life-threatening.
Pension plans measure their liabilities by applying a discount, or interest, rate that is prescribed by law. The lower the discount rate, the more they will have to contribute to fund their plans. Right now, defined-benefit pensions must use a discount rate based on a two-year average of AA corporate bond rates. Because these bond rates are at such historic lows, corporations are under tremendous pressure to meet their pension funding obligations. But there is a proposal in Congress that can give companies the relief they need while also protecting employee pensions. It can also help reduce the federal deficit.