This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Issues surrounding higher education and how it relates to creating a viable future workforce for industry were the focus of a discussion led by Gov. Bill Haslam Thursday. The governor led a discussion on post-secondary education at the University of Memphis Lambuth campus. The meeting was the second in a series of seven Haslam is holding across the state with businesses and education leaders about collaborations that are working in communities as well as areas where the state needs to improve matching the skills students are learning with the needs of employers.
During a day in West Tennessee Thursday, July 26, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam talked about higher education on the campus of the University of Memphis-Lambuth campus in Jackson and dropped in on preparations for the first day of classes next month at Corning Achievement Elementary School. The school is one of three in Frayser that are part of the state-run Achievement School District that makes its debut with the new school year. Also in Memphis, Haslam awarded $1.5 million in three transportation enhancement grants including one to begin streetscape improvements in the Walker Avenue business district next to the University of Memphis campus.
As he stepped offstage following a Memphis appearance Thursday, Gov. Bill Haslam glanced at the smiling faces of local officials nearby and offered a theory as to why he was being greeted so warmly. “People like me a lot more when I bring checks,” he said. The governor indeed had not come to Memphis empty-handed. He showed up at a parking lot just off the University of Memphis campus to announce nearly $1.5 million in Tennessee Department of Transportation grants to help fund three local projects.
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam joined Dyersburg City School educators on Wednesday afternoon for a bus tour around the city to remind students that the new school year will begin on Wednesday, Aug. 1 and to encourage positive relationships between kids, parents and schools. City schoolteachers gathered together at Dyersburg Primary School at noon to begin the afternoon’s festivities. High energy and smiling faces kicked off the event as teachers showed their enthusiasm for the opportunity to reach out into the community and welcome their kids back.
More than 220,000 Tennesseans have voted early or absentee by mail for the Aug. 2 election. The secretary of state’s office said Thursday it is a record for a comparable election. Through Wednesday, 223,281 had voted early or absentee. In August 2008, 206,174 voted during the entire early voting period. Voters need a state or federally issued photo ID to cast ballots.
The Tennessee Department of Education announced Thursday that student performance on the 2012 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program improved significantly in school districts across the state. Nearly all of the state’s 136 districts saw proficiently levels increase, and two-thirds improved in every subject of the 3-8 TCAP Achievement tests. The district-by-district results follow unprecedented gains on the statewide level, where student scores saw the largest growth in TCAP history as Tennessee continued to implement its First to the Top Education reforms.
The Tennessee Department of Education released the 2012 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program scores Thursday, showing improvement in school districts across the state. A statement from the department said almost all of the state’s 136 districts saw an increase in proficiency levels, and two-thirds of the districts improved in every subject of the third- through eighth-grade TCAP Achievement tests. In Davidson County, math results marked the greatest increase in third- through eighth-graders, showing 39.3 percent scored as proficient or advanced, a 6.5 percent increase.
Most East Tennessee students saw gains across the board on standardized tests in key subjects such as math and reading, according to annual data released Thursday by the state. In some of the school systems, those percentage increases were in the double digits, results show. Statewide, nearly all districts saw proficiency levels increase, and two-thirds improved in every subject area — reading, math, social studies and science — for the third through eighth grades on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, the state reported. School-by-school data will be released at a later date.
Student performance on the 2012 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests improved significantly in school districts across the state, the Tennessee Department of Education announced Thursday. Leading the pack was Williamson County where schools director Dr. Mike Looney dodged balloons at district headquarters while saying, “We are the highest performing school district, without exception, for all of the content areas, in the state of Tennessee, congratulations.”
Gov. Bill Haslam is anything but surprised the state has to hammer out kinks in its teacher evaluation system — even as President Obama’s education secretary said this week Tennessee is actually at the top of the class nationally. Haslam says he expects the Legislature to fairly easily accept the state Department of Education’s recommendations next spring to recalculate how certain teachers are graded, such as by reducing emphasis on how students perform school-wide.
The Transition Planning Commission completed nine months of volunteer work for public schoolchildren countywide Thursday by approving the final draft of its plan for the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools. What could have been the last meeting of the 21-member commission shifts the school merger focus to the unified school board, which has yet to develop a plan for how to address more than 160 recommendations approved by the TPC.
The executive director for the state Board of Education has recommended approval of Great Hearts Academy’s proposal to open a charter school in West Nashville. The state board meets today to consider Great Hearts’ appeal of the Nashville school board’s 7-2 decision last month to reject the charter company’s application. Although Great Hearts wants to open five K-12 schools, beginning in 2014, with one along White Bridge Road, Gary Nixon recommended the board approve just one.
The final hours of July serve notice that it’s almost back-to-school time, and with it comes a weekend of big savings on purchases of computers, school clothing and supplies during the Tennessee Sales Tax Holiday weekend. The state’s annual Sales Tax Holiday is held every year on the first Friday in August and ends the following Sunday night. This year’s tax-free holiday weekend begins at 12:01 a.m on Friday, Aug. 3, and ends Sunday, Aug. 5, at 11:59 p.m. During this time, Tennesseans can enjoy tax-free purchases on certain clothing, school and art supplies and computers.
In an effort to save lives, the Governor’s Highway Safety Office is again working across the state to crack down on traffic safety violators including impaired drivers, seat belt violators, distracted drivers, and speeders, during its “More Cops. More Stops.” campaign Thursday through Sunday. “With school starting just around the corner, many people are out enjoying the last of their summer vacations,” said Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott.
Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, is asking state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman to conduct an independent review of the operations of a for-profit virtual school operating under contract with the Union County school system. In a letter to Huffman, sent Wednesday, Berke cites a study released this month by the National Education Policy Center that is critical of K12 Inc.’s national operations based on 2010-11 data. K12 officials, which opened an online K-8 school with Union County for the 2011-12 school year, take issue with the center’s study.
The National Rifle Association has taken an interest in a Sumner County Republican primary for the state House, but its involvement in legislative elections may not end there. The national guns rights organization has independently spent more than $75,000 in the race to try to push state Rep. Debra Maggart, the Republican Caucus chairwoman, out of office and nominate former tea party leader Courtney Rogers to take her place in the state’s 45th district. The race is drawing wide attention.
The National Rifle Association has just a few named enemies this campaign season. The first is obvious – President Obama. Another is much lower profile but perhaps more precedent setting – a Republican state lawmaker from Hendersonville. “We’ve put up ads and billboards comparing Debra Maggart to Barack Obama,” says the NRA’s lobbying chief in a web video. “That’s because while they both say they support our Second Amendment rights, they’ve both worked against our freedoms behind closed doors.”
Three weeks after promising to abstain from “negative” campaign advertising, Scottie Mayfield this week launched an attack ad condemning U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s voting record — a record Mayfield praised as recently as May. On July 5, after warning on Twitter “that we’ll be attacked on TV soon,” Mayfield spokesman Joe Hendrix told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that “Scottie committed to not going negative in any way.”
A new state law approved this year to settle a dispute between the City of Memphis and Shelby County governments over $6 million in in-lieu-of-tax payments by Memphis Light Gas and Water “is constitutionally suspect,” an advisory opinion by the state attorney general says. The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Mark Norris and Rep. Curry Todd at the county government’s request and was questioned during floor debates as another attempt at state legislative intervention in a Memphis-Shelby dispute.
Here’s an update by Joe Weinberg, the Germantown pediatrician who, simultaneously with blogger/A..V. specialist/District 1 County Commission candidate Steve Ross, has been keeping running totals on the number of wrong ballots issued countywide so far during early voting for the August 2 election. Weinberg’s figures are calculated only for the state and federal portion of the election ballot. They do not measure possible erroneous ballot s for countywide races or School Board races. Through Wednesday, July 25, the cumulative total of erroneous state and federal ballots was 2,306.
Voters are continuing to cast ballots in the wrong voting districts for the Aug. 2 state and federal primaries, according to an analysis by voting database expert Dr. Joe Weinberg. Another 247 showed up on Shelby County Election Commission voting records as having cast incorrect ballots Wednesday, said Weinberg, who is known for helping Democratic candidates but considered reliable enough that the state’s Republican-run elections division sought his help in identifying the problems that appear related to the state’s redistricting.
The Tennessee Democratic Party called for an investigation into early voting statewide amid evidence that more than 1,000 people in Shelby County were given the wrong ballots. Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said in a statement released Thursday that state officials should review balloting across Tennessee to see whether voters are being given correct ballots in the first legislative and congressional elections since redistricting. A Memphis blogger and candidate for the Shelby County Election Commission turned up evidence this week that hundreds of voters in Shelby County were erroneously given ballots for a neighboring district.
Three election commissioners from the Nashville area have made campaign contributions this year to Republican legislative candidates from their counties, raising questions about their ability to deal with election disputes objectively. Each of the three — including two who chair their county election commissions — gave $500 or more to a single candidate, according to state campaign finance records. Critics said the practice makes it difficult to trust that the people charged with certifying elections and regulating campaign issues will do it impartially, though they already wear their partisan hearts on their sleeves.
The ranks of Middle Tennessee’s jobless jumped in June despite having among the lowest unemployment rates among the state’s counties, according to figures released Thursday. A state official said the data are skewed by schools being out of session but acknowledged that it doesn’t explain all of the increase. The region’s jobless rate stood at an estimated 7.3 percent last month, up from May’s revised 6.7 percent, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said.
The District Attorney for the 13th Judicial District has informed the Department of Safety and Homeland Security that former state trooper Wade Williams pleaded guilty today to five criminal counts stemming from a sexual assault investigation. Williams pleaded guilty to two (2) counts of aggravated statutory rape, two (2) counts of attempt to commit especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, and one (1) count of sexual exploitation of a minor. Williams was sentenced as a “child sexual predator” on the aggravated statutory rape charges.
A federal judge agreed Thursday to give the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro more time to complete construction and occupy its new building on Veals Road on the southeast side of town. U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp extended a temporary restraining order until Aug. 15 after another federal judge last week ordered Rutherford County to restart the inspection process for the mosque in time for Ramadan, which began a week ago. In light of the federal ruling last week, Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew stayed his order that the Islamic Center could not obtain a certificate of occupancy because the county gave inadequate public notice before its site plan was approved.
Representative Jim Cooper is getting more ink for his “No Budget, No Pay” bill. The Fifth District democrat wrote about the proposal in the Atlantic, insisting that as long as Congress can’t pass a budget, it should not be allowed to collect its pay. Cooper said “Today’s Congress has not passed a budget in three years and has not completed all of its budget and appropriations bills on time in 15-years. Few incumbents can even remember meeting these obligations. This is no way to run a superpower.”
Two outside political action committees that have unleashed TV, radio and billboard advertising attacking Tennessee Rep. Diane Black’s congressional record are funded entirely by a businessman with close ties to her rival in next week’s Republican primary. Andrew Miller, a Nashville health care investor, told USA TODAY he has pumped more than $260,000 into the two super PACs — Citizens 4 Ethics in Government and the Congressional Elections PAC — running anti-Black ads.
A firm cost estimate on the Uranium Processing Facility — reported to be the largest construction project in Tennessee history — won’t be available until September 2013, according to the project’s federal director, but site readiness is expected begin within the next couple of months at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. Officials are getting approval to start preliminary construction work in part because they’ve broken the giant project, which currently has a cost range of $4.2 billion to $6.5 billion, into four separate work packages.
A 19-year-old Algonquin woman with severe disabilities who was left by her mother at a Tennessee bar last month was headed back to Illinois to be placed at a residential facility, officials said Thursday. An east Tennessee judge ordered a day earlier that the woman be immediately released to the state of Illinois. The teen was considered indigent after her mother, Eva Cameron, of Algonquin, told Tennessee officials that she no longer could care for her daughter and did not want to pursue guardianship.
The longtime mayor of Pikeville, Tenn., is accused of misusing more than $170,000 in taxpayer funds. Greg Johnson, who is in his third term, is free on $10,000 bond after being arrested Wednesday on charges of official misconduct and felony theft in the wake of a monthslong investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Office. Officials at Pikeville City Hall said Johnson had not come into the office on Thursday. City Hall staff also said he has not submitted any correspondence regarding his plans as mayor.
Authorities in Chattanooga have recovered the body of a patient at the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Facility who had jumped into the Tennessee River. Police said Thursday they found the body of 36-year-old Waylon Farless on the shoreline approximately one mile downriver from the facility. Farless had been seen jumping into the river Tuesday night and trying to swim across it. Witnesses said Farless was about halfway across when he shouted for help and went under.
A complaint forced Fentress County school officials in March to remove the Ten Commandments from being posted in Pine Haven Elementary in Jamestown. The decision caused a public uproar. A public meeting was held at the Fentress County Courthouse shortly after the removal to talk about the issue. Now a new Tennessee law allowing historical documents in public buildings has reversed that decision.
The 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book has been released and, not surprisingly, Tennessee ranks in the bottom 10 states nationally in education. The annual national analysis of issues affecting children is conducted by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, which works with the private and public sector, including Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court, to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. Tennessee ranked 36th in the overall well-being of children across the nation based on four categories — health, education, economic well-being, and family and community.
Tennessean Endorsements: Tennesseans choose their state senators for four-year, staggered terms. In 2012, the “even-numbered” districts are on the ballot. Much like the state House races, the Senate contests are a mix of vacated seats with crowded primaries and long-held districts with strong incumbents. Early voting continues today and Saturday. The primary is on Thursday, Aug. 2. Here are our recommendations in Middle Tennessee districts: District 14 – Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, faces a challenge from Matt Randolph of Ardmore. The Tennessean endorses Sen. Jim Tracy for the Republican nomination.
Maybe the Tennessee Department of Education should bring in David McCullough Jr. to evaluate its evaluation process. When 75 percent of teachers receive top rankings but only 2.5 percent of teachers score the lowest rankings while student test scores repeatedly rank in the bottom 10 states, somebody needs to speak some truth. McCullough, son of the famous popular historian, teaches at Wellesley High School in Wellesley, Mass. Last month, McCullough addressed Wellesley’s graduating seniors at commencement and, with a few words, burst so many balloons it’s a wonder the abrupt expulsion didn’t capsize Sen. John Kerry’s sailboat cruising off the coast of Cape Cod.
Today, the U.S. forest products industry produces about $175 billion annually in products and employs more than 900,000 hardworking women and men. In Tennessee, the industry is made up of small family-owned sawmills, local production facilities and Fortune 500 companies like International Paper. The industry employs more than 60,000 Tennesseans and generates more than $13 billion annually for our state’s economy. For over a century, McMinnville Manufacturing has had a proud heritage of providing quality jobs and products at our hardwood flooring company in Warren County.
Knox County commissioners attempted to straddle the wall separating church and state this week, passing a policy governing the invocations that traditionally begin each meeting. The policy, which passed on a 10-1 vote Monday, is aimed at continuing the tradition without violating anyone’s civil rights. While invocations can be legal and Law Director Joe Jarret advised the panel that a written policy would help in court, a recent federal appeals court ruling states that a policy’s constitutionality lies in how it is practiced. Meanwhile, in Chattanooga, proceedings began Thursday on a legal challenge to the Hamilton County Commission’s prayer policy.