This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
It’s too early to coin a word for the year on Capitol Hill, but it could arguably be vouchers. Parents, politicians, business interests and everyone in-between should get used to that word, because the term will be on repeat over at least the next few months, if not years. Vouchers are essentially taxpayer-funded coupons parents can use to send their children to the private or parochial school of their choice for free or on a discount. Tennessee doesn’t offer them yet, but there is momentum on Capitol Hill to change that.
School ambassadors take an objective approach Three Memphis teachers chosen to help other teachers climb the ladder of success had never met before sitting for a group interview in the communications office at Memphis City Schools. They all had the same idea, however, about what the key to their success would be. “I suspect we’re going to do a lot of data interpreting,” said Edna Williams, who teaches math and science at Vollentine Elementary. “I see the data as being important, to look at the data,” said Middle College High School science teacher Pierre Jackson.
A southern Kentucky evangelical preacher is asking a federal appeals court to strike down the University of Tennessee’s requirement that speakers on campus have sponsorship and get the approval of school administrators. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is scheduled Tuesday to hear arguments from John McGlone of Breeding, Ky., and attorneys for the university. McGlone is challenging the university’s requirements as an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. University officials argue the policies don’t violate any of McGlone’s rights.
Two outspoken opponents on a particularly contentious education issue in 2011 today agree it’s still too early to tell whether the so-called “collaborative conferencing” system that replaced teacher collective bargaining is working effectively in Tennessee. State Sen. Jack Johnson and former Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters both told TNReport recently that another couple years are probably needed before the pros and cons of collaborative conferencing become fully apparent. “We’ll have to see how that is going to work,” said Winters.
The Tennessee Bar Association has approved a series of recommended changes in the state law governing conservatorships, including first-time procedures to place a person in a conservatorship on an emergency basis without notice. The recommendations, approved during the weekend by the association’s board of governors, will be forwarded to legislative leaders, said Allan F. Ramsaur, executive director of the association. In addition to establishing the emergency placement process, the 16 recommended changes in the law clarify the role of court-appointed attorneys, known as “guardian ad litems,” assigned to investigate the need for a conservatorship and report back to the court with a recommendation.
If Republican state Rep. Joe Carr wanted national publicity for his bill calling for the jailing of federal agents attempting to enforce would-be restrictions on semi-automatic weapons, the Lacassas, Tenn., lawmaker was in the right place Friday. Carr and MSNBC’s the Rev. Al Sharpton squared off in a nearly nine-minute-long verbal slugfest on Sharpton’s cable show. The topics? Carr’s bill, Second Amendment gun rights, state sovereignty, hand grenades, nuclear bombs tucked under a bed, slavery and the civil rights struggle.
Accuses Sharpton of ‘race-baiting’ State Rep. Joe Carr accused the Rev. Al Sharpton of using “cheap race baiting” in a debate over his legislation that would prohibit federal agents from enforcing any new gun laws in Tennessee. During an MSNBC interview with Carr last Friday, Sharpton, a controversial civil rights activist, showed the clip of Alabama Gov. George Wallace blocking the enrollment of two black students on the steps of the University of Alabama and said Carr was making the same argument for state “sovereignty” to stop the federal government from enforcing a potential ban on “military-style assault weapons.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander praised America’s peaceful tradition of transferring or reaffirming power Monday during remarks before the inauguration of President Barack Obama to a second term. “We do this in a peaceful, orderly way,” the Tennessee Republican said from the inaugural platform on the Capitol’s west front. “There is no mob, no coup, no insurrection. This is a moment when millions stop and watch. A moment most of us always will remember. A moment that is the most conspicuous and enduring symbol of our democracy.”
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander took his spot on the dais in Washington, D.C., Monday, celebrating the peaceful reaffirmation of “immense power” and urging Americans of all persuasions to “find the good and praise it.” Speaking in short, powerful sentences, Alexander struck an apolitical tone during his two minutes on the national stage, addressing an estimated crowd of 600,000 before President Barack Obama took his ceremonial oath of office.”We do this in a peaceful, orderly way,” the Maryville, Tenn., Republican said.
Halfway through Erlanger Health System’s fiscal year, the hospital has posted $2.5 million in losses — a significant improvement from Erlanger’s grim financial status at this time last year, at which point the hospital had lost $10.3 million. Despite the positive development, the hospital chalked up a $1.1 million loss in December, with a drop in inpatient surgeries during the month driving a large part of the deficit. Adam Royer, associate administrator for Erlanger Medical Center, explained that the downturn in surgeries could be attributed to the departure of several physicians who have not been replaced, and to Christmas being held on a Tuesday, meaning more doctors took an entire week off during the holiday instead of half a week.
As Facebook and Twitter become as central to workplace conversation as the company cafeteria, federal regulators are ordering employers to scale back policies that limit what workers can say online. Employers often seek to discourage comments that paint them in a negative light. Don’t discuss company matters publicly, a typical social media policy will say, and don’t disparage managers, co-workers or the company itself. Violations can be a firing offense. But in a series of recent rulings and advisories, labor regulators have declared many such blanket restrictions illegal.
Percentage of Students in Public Institutions Getting Diplomas Reached 35-Year High in 2010, But Country Still Lags Peers The U.S. public high-school graduation rate climbed to a 35-year high in 2010, according to new federal data, although U.S. high-school students are still struggling to keep up with their international peers. The data show that 78.2% of high-school students received their diploma in four years in 2010, a 2.7-percentage-point jump over the previous year. Graduation rates have been mostly on the upswing over the past decade.
A year from now, Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register will discover what teachers across Tennessee already know: how it feels to have student achievement help determine their job-performance grade. The Metro school board in the coming months is planning to overhaul the way it evaluates the director of schools’ performance annually to also include student outcomes — a move that is believed to be a first for the district. The change, to be a part of a larger still-undefined rubric, comes as the state is in the middle of its second year of teacher evaluations that factor in students’ test scores and growth.
The air is cold, the accommodations not as comfortable as home for the most part, but parents who have been waiting outside the Memphis City Schools administration building night and day since Thursday can’t think of a more convenient way to secure spots in the new unified school district’s optional schools program. The program for high achieving students, which for decades has been a magnet for families that might otherwise have abandoned public schools, has been providing a test of endurance and parental dedication over the last few days.
Gov. Bill Haslam repeatedly has expressed uncertainty about expanding TennCare (Medicaid in Tennessee) as called for, but not required, under the Affordable Care Act. Haslam is known for being cautious, but opting not to expand the state’s health insurance program for low-income individuals could have negative financial consequences for many state hospitals, especially in rural areas, and reduce the availability of health care services. Haslam has a strong business background. If the decision to expand TennCare was only a business decision, the answer would be clear. But his decision also must be made in light of politics, and therein lies the problem.
Tennessee loses $400 million annually in sales taxes to online purchases involving out-of-state merchants, Gov. Bill Haslam told a congressional panel in 2012. The governor wants to see that money collected by businesses and paid to the state, and we do, too. So does Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess, who pointed out that 60 percent of the state’s revenue is made up of sales taxes. Growth in local sales taxes is less than 1 percent, while Internet sales are seeing double-digit increases, Burgess told the annual meeting of legislators with the Rutherford County Steering, Legislative and Governmental Affairs Committee. Add taxes on Internet sales to the county’s coffers and local budget problems would be solved, he said.