This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The National Governors Association has decided to hold the group’s annual meeting in Nashville in 2014. It will be the third time the meeting is held in Tennessee, after previous events in Gatlinburg in 1951 and Nashville in 1984. The NGA said in a release that its nine-governor executive committee selected Nashville for its accommodations, venue options and “overall appeal.” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam in the release praised the selection of Nashville and said he looks forward to showcasing Music City’s offerings.
A small but prestigious meeting has been slated for Nashville. Officials of the National Governors Association announced they will come to town for their annual conference in 2014. About a thousand people typically attend, but many more pay attention. This year’s events in Williamsburg, Virginia, were carried on C-SPAN. One of the biggest topics of conversation revolved around Medicaid and whether states would continue to push back against the federal health care overhaul.
The National Governors Association (NGA) today announced that Nashville, Tennessee, will host the nation’s governors for its 2014 Annual Meeting, July 10-13. This will mark the third time NGA has held its Annual Meeting in the state since 1951. “The nation’s governors are excited to be holding their meeting in Nashville, and thank Gov. Haslam for the invitation,” said NGA Vice Chair Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin. “NGA meetings are an opportunity for leaders from around the country to come together across party lines to develop innovative and improved approaches to governing. Nashville will be a great setting for these discussions.”
The National Governors Association announced Monday that it will have its 2014 conference in Nashville, bringing the event back to Tennessee for the first time in three decades. Governors from throughout the nation will convene in Nashville July 10-13 for their summer meeting, one of two conferences the NGA has each year. The association has not yet chosen a venue for the event, though the city’s new convention center and the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center are both being considered, an NGA spokeswoman said.
Homeowners in the tri-cities could get federal assistance following last week’s destructive flooding. After the deputy governor toured the area, Governor Bill Haslam is now asking for federal assistance. FEMA damage assessment teams have visited three East Tennessee counties. FEMA says there’s an $8.5 million threshold for the area to qualify for federal money. If FEMA says the area reaches that threshold and President Obama declares a disaster, that would clear the way for residents to be reimbursed up to $30,000 for repairs.
The Tennessee Election Commission could take “serious and substantial” action — possibly including ousting members of the Shelby County Election Commission — depending on the outcome of a review of the problems in the Aug. 2 election, a Memphis member of the state board said Monday. A performance audit of those problems by the state comptroller’s office is expected to begin as soon as this week, State Election Commission member Greg Duckett of Memphis said. The audit was requested July 26 by Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and State Election Coordinator Mark Goins, who both called the problems “unacceptable.”
Despite vague state law, plan called ‘success’ for sharp focus on reading. Hundreds of Middle Tennessee children are repeating third grade this year because they don’t read well enough to advance, but vagueness and flexibility in a new state law allowed many others to move on despite poor reading skills. Last year’s third-graders were the first group subject to a new Tennessee law flunking them if they did not show “a basic understanding and skill” in reading. Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman had so many requests to clarify the law that he sent a letter to the state’s school districts last year.
State education officials today released their list of the bottom five percent of Tennessee’s schools. The list is based on the last three years of test scores and graduation rates. Some of the so-called “priority schools” will have to come up with plans for making big improvements, others will be transferred into state control and may be converted into charter schools. Several priority schools are in Metro: Bailey, Brick Church and Gra-Mar Middle, Buena Vista and Napier Elementary, and one charter school, Smithson Craighead Middle.
Six low-performing Metro schools are eligible for inclusion in the state-led Achievement School District, and an additional 13 Davidson County public schools have some of the largest achievement gaps in the state. Tennessee Department of Education Officials on Monday released names of the state’s so-called “priority schools” and “focus schools” under Tennessee’s new education accountability system, which has replaced federal No Child Left Behind standards. The new labels follow the recent release of TCAP and end-of-year test results.
Numbers based on standardized tests in spring Six Metro Nashville schools are among the state’s lowest 5 percent for performance. The Tennessee Department of Education released its list Monday, basing it on student performance on spring standardized testing. It included Bailey, Brick Church, Gra-Mar and Smithson-Craighead middle schools and Buena Vista and Napier elementary schools in Nashville. No other Middle Tennessee districts made the priority list, which totaled 83 schools statewide.
For the first time in at least half a decade, test scores at Chattanooga’s Howard School put it in good standing with the Tennessee Department of Education. The department on Monday released lists of priority and focus schools, both part of the state’s new school accountability system, which replaces Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, standards of the past. Priority schools are those that performed in the bottom 5 percent on state tests, while focus schools are the 10 percent of schools across the state with the largest achievement gaps between racial, socioeconomic or other groups of students.
Reggie Mosley knew when he accepted his position as principal at Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Technology Academy that he would have a big task in front of him. Mosley is jumping in feet first as school begins today on the heels of an announcement Monday that the school is one of 83 schools in the state identified as a “priority school” — the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in terms of academic achievement — under the state’s new accountability system.
Nearly 70 Memphis city schools, including three charter schools, rank in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide, based on spring test scores. Over the next three years, these “priority” schools will receive targeted prescriptions to help them improve, including state and federal funds to increase the length of the school day through the district’s iZone schools. Others will be taken over by the state-run Achievement School District. “Our test results for 2011-12 showed that students and their teachers made gains in almost every category measured,” MCS Supt. Kriner Cash said in a prepared statement late Monday.
Tennessee’s new Achievement School District kicked off the year with a party. In the parking lot beside Frayser Elementary School, kids danced, slid on slides, and bounced in inflated houses. There was even a rock-climbing wall and laser-tag. But there is serious work ahead. The ambitious goal of the Achievement School District is to take schools that are among the bottom five percent in the state and move them to the top 25 percent—all in the next five years.
Tennessee Board of Regents officials told a Senate panel investigating allegations of grade fixing at Tennessee State University that there wasn’t any wrongdoing by university administrators. A hearing on Monday was held following allegations that university officials changed more than 100 students’ grades of incomplete for two introductory-level courses into letter grades without instructors’ permission. Students in these courses were supposed to complete college-level material, as well as additional coursework designed to bring the students up to speed.
University misinterpreted state policy, Regents say Tennessee State University officials celebrated Monday afternoon after releasing an internal audit they said exonerated them from charges of improperly changing grades. Officials from the Nashville university and the Tennessee Board of Regents testified that the school had misinterpreted state policy by giving “incomplete” grades to 270 math students in the fall of 2011, but then correctly gave students the grades they had earned by the following spring.
Several state lawmakers are suggesting allegations of grade-fixing at Tennessee State University were untrue, and stemmed from a big misunderstanding. At a hearing with top TSU officials today, legislators said the mix-up was blown out of proportion, and should’ve instead been handled internally. TSU was accused of handing grades of ‘C’ to nearly 300 math students who had received an I, for incomplete. That’s not exactly what happened though, according to an audit by the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees TSU.
The doors are open and class will soon be in session at Pellissippi State Community College’s newest location. The campus dean, along with more than 100 others cut the ribbon to the Strawberry Plains campus Monday afternoon. The newest campus is the fifth for Pellissippi State. The new facility features multiple classrooms, gathering areas, a cafeteria and kitchen, plus a theater-style presentation room. Educators say the new campus’ location is key, allowing them to offer more creative degrees and serve more people.
MTSU senior aerospace major Steve Lawn looks forward to exploring how military robots can interact with unmanned aircraft. “When I was in high school, this stuff was barely coming around,” said Lawn, a 1999 graduate of Crestview (Fla.) High School. “The interoperability will be a big step for us.” Middle Tennessee State University will research this robotic ground technology as it interacts with unmanned aircraft through a “historic partnership” with the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, university President Sidney McPhee announced Monday morning.
Dove season is coming up, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency looking for land to lease. The standard leased field is one where grain or millet has been harvested. TWRA will pay $75 per acre, up to 40 acres for a maximum of $3,000. Fields must be available for a minimum of three priority hunt dates next month. The fields will be leased by Sept. 1. Landowners who are interested can reach the TWRA at their website.
A six-member state board that investigates campaign finance irregularities will meet next month and decide whether to look further into some questionable disclosure forms filed by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. In addition, state ethics officials said they also are seeking possible records that the mayor’s estranged wife, Allison Burchett, may have that are related to her husband’s 2010 election. “We’ve got the complaint and now it’s up to the registry (of election finance) to determine whether it wants to proceed, dismiss or do something in the middle,” said Drew Rawlins, executive director of the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.
The County Commission voted 7-5 on Monday to add a referendum for a countywide, half-cent sales tax increase to the Nov. 6 ballot, effectively knocking a similar referendum for the city of Memphis off the ballot. The resolution from Commissioner Mike Ritz was approved despite arguments from Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell that the new unified school board should get a chance to shrink its expected deficit of $59 million before taxes are increased. Luttrell has 10 days to veto the measure, a move the County Commission can override with eight votes.
How widespread is the nation’s obesity problem? Nearly one in three Tennesseans are obese, but that obesity rate lands outside the ten highest in the country. That analysis came out Monday from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It’s based on the latest state obesity rates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tennessee’s obesity rate of 29.2 percent ties the state (along with Virginia) for the 15th-highest rate in the country. Mississippi weighed in at the top with an obesity rate of 34.9 percent.
Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama all saw a drop in their adult obesity rates last year, but that’s likely because of a difference in collecting the data rather than an actual change in the number of obese people, according to data released Monday. Mississippi remained in the top spot with nearly 35 percent of its adults considered obese while Colorado remained lowest at nearly 21 percent, according to information from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. States in the South and Midwest continued to have the highest rates of obesity — calculated as anyone with a body mass index of more than 30.
An embattled nominee for the U.S. Senate is turning to a Republican state senator to try to underscore his Democratic credentials. Mark Clayton, who was disavowed by the state Democratic Party after winning the primary because of his anti-gay stance, held a news conference in Nashville on Monday with Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield. Campfield, the sponsor of a bill seeking to bar teaching about gay issues, told reporters that he had previously tried, but failed, to recruit Clayton to run as a Republican.
The Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate – disavowed by the Tennessee party – appeared today alongside an outspoken GOP state lawmaker. Mark Clayton is still trying to prove he really is a Democrat after his decisive primary win Knoxville Republican Stacey Campfield says Clayton must be a Democrat because at one point, he tried to convert the aspiring politician to become a Republican. The two got to know each other working on legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill to restrict discussion of LGBT issues in public schools.
The debate over debates shows no sign of stopping in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District. The latest twist came Sunday, when U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais refused his Democratic opponent’s week-old request to argue the issues three times over the next month. “While I am open to revisiting the question later in the campaign, your lack of clarity on the issues gives me no reason for or basis from which we could currently debate,” South Pittsburg Republican DesJarlais said in an email to Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart of Belvidere.
More than 300 members of the Tennessee National Guard are coming home this week after a year’s deployment in the Middle East. Guard officials in Nashville said more than 160 soldiers are expected to arrive at the air base in Smyrna on Tuesday. Those members of the 230th Engineer Battalion are scheduled to arrive at 11:40 a.m. They are currently undergoing out-processing at Fort Bliss, Texas. The soldiers are expected to depart for the armory in Trenton at about 3 p.m. About 150 Union City guardsmen from the 913th Engineer Company, also now at Fort Bliss, are to arrive at Smyrna after 9 a.m. Thursday.
With Mitt Romney’s selection of Representative Paul D. Ryan as his running mate, Florida quickly emerged on Monday as a critical test of the nationwide Republican gamble that concerns over the mounting federal debt can blunt potent Democratic attacks on conservative proposals to revamp Medicare. As Mr. Romney campaigned through Florida on Monday, Democrats greeted him with a barrage of assaults, including a Web advertisement featuring worried elderly voters in this battleground state.
In the past two years, Illinois has done just about everything it could to reduce the amount it spends on prescription drugs for mental health. It has placed restrictions on the availability of 17 medications used to treat depression, psychosis and attention-deficit disorder. Doctors now have to explain to Medicaid why the drugs are necessary before a patient can get access to them. Then in July, as part of an effort to cut overall Medicaid spending by $1.6 billion, the state capped the number of prescriptions for Medicaid recipients to four a month, even if they previously were taking a broader cocktail of behavioral medications.
In the wake of last month’s stunning security breach at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, the federal government issued a “show cause notice” to managing contractor B&W Y-12, the News Sentinel has learned. The stern order, which was issued Aug. 10, requires the plant’s contractor to explain why its contract shouldn’t be terminated. It underscores why drastic personnel changes — including the removal of three top executives at B&W — have taken place in recent days to address the security concerns.
General Motors is hiring locally in Spring Hill for the first time in more than 15 years. The company has now brought back everyone who left after the plant was idled in 2009. More than 300 long-time workers scattered around the country to other GM plants, some for more than a year. Don Sowers just returned in May after a stint in Lordstown, Ohio. “I just got to get two more years in and I can retire. So I’m hoping it stays around for two more years. Then after that, we’ll see.” It’s been common for GM to move employees from one plant to the next.
Custom metal parts supplier plans $2.1M project in Mt. Juliet A metal parts manufacturer is planning to expand its Wilson County facility and add 34 jobs. Genesee A&B said it will undertake a $2.1 million expansion of its plant at 8111 Eastgate Blvd. in Mt. Juliet. Genesee is a custom metal parts manufacturer and supplier to the telecommunications, electronics, computer, medical security hardware, auto and other industries. The company also has a location in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Health care experts say Tennessee’s nursing job market has grown more competitive in recent years. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that the state has added more than 10,000 registered nurses in the last half-decade. According to the Tennessee Board of Nursing, there were more than 83,000 registered nurses in the state in 2011, and 21 new schools were added between 2000 and 2011. In the Chattanooga area alone, there are four nursing schools, and local hospitals say they have little trouble filling empty nursing spots.
FedEx will soon begin offering buyouts to U.S. employees in an effort to cut costs in the face of a weakening global economy. While the world’s second-largest package delivery hasn’t yet decided how many positions will be eliminated, it will likely focus on slow-growth areas like its Express and Services units. Express is where FedEx got its start in 1971, and it’s still the company’s biggest segment by far. The speedy shipping division, which moves 3.5 million packages on an average day, has been hit hard as people shift to slower delivery methods to conserve cash.
FedEx Corp. gave a heads-up to more than 115,000 U.S. employees on Monday that a voluntary buyout for certain nonoperational staff members is coming next year. It’s part of a restructuring program, expected to be laid out in detail in October, to boost profitability in the company’s underperforming domestic express business. The company said it will offer voluntary buyout incentives to certain U.S.-based employees as part of a broader plan to increase efficiency and trim costs.
Memphis-based FedEx Corp. is preparing for a voluntary employee buyout that will likely target workers in the company’s Express and Service units.cA statement from the company Monday, Aug. 13, said the “vast majority” of those eligible will probably be “non-operational staff” employees of both divisions. The precise eligibility guidelines were still being worked out Monday as well as the participation levels by different areas of the company. The shipping giant is expected to talk more about the buyouts and related moves this fall, either during a September quarterly earnings call or an October investors conference – or both.
Next move is up to school board as Sumner County Commission approves $800,000 more, still short of what the board wants Sumner County children started their second week with no scheduled classes Monday as public officials continued the budget stalemate that is keeping schools closed. The county commission adjourned about 10:30 p.m. after defeating a series of proposals aimed at getting $2.8 million more for the school district budget. Last week, that’s how much the county school board said it would take to open school doors.
Sumner County students are still on an extended summer vacation after the school board and county commission failed to agree on a budget. The debate has highlighted the property tax rate in Sumner County. Some parents have said they are willing to pay an increased tax rate if it means more money for schools. “We should all as a community have a discussion about our tax rate and how to make it work for businesses and families and it probably needs to go up,” parent Andy Spears said.
Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash is working on a plan of school closings and building reuse that is different than the recommendation of the schools consolidation planning commission. Cash talked in general terms about the plan in a joint appearance with Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “What I want to talk about is rightsizing and repurposing those schools,” Cash said.
Nick Gatlin isn’t much of a science guru and never liked science classes too much. But that’s something teachers and staff at Hamilton County’s newest school hope to change. The county’s science, technology, engineering and math school welcomed its first 75 students on the first day of school Monday. Educators say the school will focus on STEM areas but also will fundamentally shift the way high school is taught. “I think what kids are looking for is a new way of doing school that’s not boring,” STEM Principal Tony Donen said.
Rutherford County Board of Education members called the proposed zone lines for the new Stewarts Creek High a “well-studied document.” Board members and about a half-dozen parents were at the district’s central office Monday to hear a presentation from Director of Schools Don Odom and Shane Morgan, the district’s boundary planning and enrollment coordinator, on how many students will move to fill the new high school when it opens in August 2013. Essentially four plans were presented by the staff, but the one labeled “staff recommendation” seemed to be palatable to most of the board members.
A gunman opened fire on police officers near the Texas A&M University campus shortly after noon on Monday, killing at least two people, including a local constable, and wounding four others, the police said. The gunman, who was shot by officers, died after he was taken into custody. The police identified the constable as Brian Bachmann and said he was shot after approaching the gunman’s house on Fidelity Street about two blocks from campus. A 43-year-old man, Chris Northcliff, who was outside at the time, was also killed.
Despite a dismal national ranking, Tennessee is on a path to cleaner air. Last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council, a large environmental organization, listed Tennessee 11th among 20 states with the worst industrial air pollution. Fossil-fuel plants pump mercury and other toxic substances into the air, substances that can contribute to respiratory diseases, birth defects and other problems. And yet, the air in Tennessee and nationwide improved by 19 percent in 2010, the year that the NRDC analyzed for its report, from a year earlier.
According to a Washington Post article July 28, Tennessee is revising its Medicaid long-term care options to make it harder for certain low-income elderly people to qualify for state-paid nursing home care, making it considerably more difficult for patients to reach the standard to qualify for nursing home care. Two years ago, the legislature unanimously approved Gov. Phil Bredesen’s proposal to create a new TennCare program called Choices that had a very laudable goal of allowing elderly patients on Medicaid to live in their own homes longer, by paying for a variety of in-home care services.
Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court has taken another step to ensure that children are provided with adequate legal counsel when they wind up in the juvenile justice system. Court officials will move the juvenile defense system from Juvenile Court oversight and place it under the county Public Defender’s Office, which hasn’t held that role in 35 years. The move was sparked by a blistering U.S. Department of Justice report citing systemic problems in the Juvenile Court system, including instances of unprepared and uninformed defense attorneys who were not “zealous advocates” in representing minors, including those sent to adult court to face possible prison time.
It is too early to tell what the future holds for health care reform in America. But two things are certain: Escalating health care costs make the current system financially unsustainable, and the most effective way to cut health care costs is sound public health policy. Finding ways to cut the nation’s obesity epidemic is a sure way to cut health care costs and to improve the health and the lives of millions of Americans. A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sheds light on America’s expanded waistline. The report reflects self-reporting of height and weight, and lists the obesity rate for each state. Mississippians have a 34.9 percent obesity rate, the highest in the nation. Coloradans have the lowest rate of obesity at 20.7 percent. Tennessee ranks 15th with a 29.2 percent obesity rate.
Nissan is investing to increase North American production of vehicles sold here, a smart move in a down economy. The company is providing jobs that generate more jobs, and that goes a long way toward building product loyalty. After all, in Rutherford County, who doesn’t know someone who has worked in some way to build or sell a Nissan? The first truck, known as a Datsun at the time, rolled off the assembly line in Smyrna in 1983. Now, more than 6,000 workers are employed in the Smyrna Nissan plant, and that figure is expected to grow to at least 7,000 by the end of the year. While Nissan Frontiers and the Xterra SUV will move construction from the Smyrna plant to Canton, Miss., later this month, that leaves the Smyrna facility with room to make new models such as the Infiniti JX, the Nissan Rogue and the all-electric Nissan Leaf.