This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The removal of the city’s Harpeth River dam last year has won a top state environmental award. Known as the “Harpeth River Restoration Project,” the project was one of 11 winners in the 2013 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards. The awards recognize achievements and positive impacts on the state’s natural resources. There will be an awards ceremony June 25 in Nashville. “The continued health of Tennessee’s air, land and water plays a critical role in keeping our communities strong and attractive for locating a business or raising a family,” Gov. Bill Haslam said.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is nearing a decision on whether to push for an expansion of TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, but questions remain about how the plan would be structured and whether it could win approval from state and federal officials. After more than two months of discussions with federal officials over a proposal to buy private insurance for the poor, Haslam expects to know by the end of the summer whether to recommend that Tennessee join the 29 states that already have committed to expanding their Medicaid programs.
Tennessee’s child and family programs receive huge shares of their funding from the federal government, but the state still misses out on some competitive grants, a recent study finds. Whether short-staffed, pressed for time or unable to drum up matching state dollars, Tennessee’s government grant writers encounter many hurdles to pulling in more federal funds that could help families, according to the report by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. Still, the state spent $3.9 billion in federal dollars on kids and families last fiscal year, and more than $9 billion overall.
Tennessee Main Street communities are gearing up for the summer. The Tennessee Main Street programs are hosting multiple summer events and farmers’ markets to support historic downtown business districts across the state. Tennessee Main Street provides technical assistance and guidance to help communities make downtowns more safe and appealing. Last year, certified Main Street communities generated more than $82 million of public/private investment and created a little more than 600 new jobs.
Tennessee State University is hosting a two-week course to help high school educators in the field of agriculture enhance their students’ learning experience. Twenty educators from across the country arrived at the college over the weekend and were to be in Nashville through June 20th for the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education project. The Agricultural and Extension Education Service at TSU is hosting the course for the second year. John Ricketts is an associate professor with the Extension Service.
The chairman of a House panel overseeing drunken-driving legislation says he doesn’t see lowering Tennessee’s legal standard for DUI from 0.08 to 0.05 percent until at least 2016 because of costs. But House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, said he does think a 2014 priority will be cracking down on drivers who combine alcohol with prescription medications. “To have success in the Legislature, we need to do things incrementally,” Shipley told reporters last week when asked about the 0.05 percent blood alcohol level recently recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.
In 2010, the Tennessee legislature enacted a new performance-based funding system for the state’s public colleges and universities, replacing a decades-old system that based funding for campuses mostly on their student enrollment numbers. To reduce the immediate financial impacts on the institutions, the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 phased in its shift to “outcomes-based” funding over three years and lawmakers provided extra money to protect the campuses from formula-based funding cuts during the transition.
Local leaders sailed through this year’s budget process, approving almost without question Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s spending proposal. That was the easy part, officials said, since the plan seemed to appease everyone with requests that had been previously cut or denied, including non-profits, planning organizations and the school system. But now, the general fund, which covers much of the day-to-day operations, is set to reap between $6 million and $12 million in surplus revenues, and some say the “real” discussions will start when that happens.
Senators opposed several December initiatives that would have strengthened oversight of the program that reportedly allows the National Security Agency to access America’s phone records and computer screens. On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said it was “troubling” to read the Guardian newspaper’s report on the NSA’s nationwide roundup of Verizon phone records. The Tennessee Republican claimed to have “no idea” of how much the Obama administration used the Patriot Act to justify collection.
The Affordable Care Act, which is supposed to stop people without health insurance from falling through the cracks, has a gaping hole, a new report shows. No one devised a plan for how 8.5 million Americans who qualify for health insurance subsidies but don’t have checking accounts will pay their premiums. These are Americans who either exclusively use cash or depend on reloadable debit cards for benefits ranging from Social Security to food stamps. They are at risk of being left out of coverage simply because they aren’t set up for the standard payment mechanisms that insurance companies expect, according to the report by experts with Jackson Hewitt Tax Service and Vanderbilt University, Minorities are particularly at risk, the report says.
It was once common for elementary-school teachers to arrange their classrooms by ability, placing the highest-achieving students in one cluster, the lowest in another. But ability grouping and its close cousin, tracking, in which children take different classes based on their proficiency levels, fell out of favor in the late 1980s and the 1990s as critics charged that they perpetuated inequality by trapping poor and minority students in low-level groups. Now ability grouping has re-emerged in classrooms all over the country — a trend that has surprised education experts who believed the outcry had all but ended its use.
Gun curbs? Colorado got it done. Driver’s licenses and in-state tuition for immigrants in the country illegally? Done. A new school-spending plan, an elections overhaul, Medicaid expansion? Done, done and done. Democrats, with a majority in both houses of the Colorado legislature after years of shared control, seized all they could in a whirlwind legislative session that Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll described as “historically productive.” Republican Sen. Bill Cadman, the minority leader, put a different headline on a brutal year for the GOP: “Democrats push radical crusade against Colorado.”
Big to bigger. Bustling to jam-packed. Twelve years after moving from the hot, dusty fairgrounds to Nashville’s burgeoning downtown, the CMA Music Festival is Nashville’s sold-out signature event. This year’s festival sold out the main LP Field nightly concerts of 50,000 fans six weeks in advance before even offering single-night tickets. As the festival wrapped its record-breaking year Sunday night, threatening storms prompted festival organizers to accelerate the LP Field show.
When principal Lori Phillips gives the tour of Belle Forest Community School in Hickory Hill, she wavers a second, then walks straight to the office that will be the full-time medical clinic. From there, she zips to the outdoor amphitheater, where community groups will perform. A second later, she’s opening the door on an expansive community room, with its own entrance, bathrooms, sound system and furniture. “Community is the major focus. You can teach the whole child if you know a child’s family,” says Phillips, starting her eighth year as an elementary school principal and her first as community liaison at Belle Forest, the first school in Shelby County designed to serve students, their parents and siblings and welcome in the taxpayers that make it possible.
The Rutherford County Board of Education will vote on its first charter school application this week. Earlier this year, the district received a letter of intent from Learning Athletics and Wellness Foundation Sports Academy, also known as L.A.W. Foundation, to apply for a public charter school for the 2014-15 school year. Charter schools are public schools run with taxpayer dollars, but operated by an independent board of directors. Organizers are expected to use that freedom to try different approaches and raise student performance, particularly where local public schools are failing.
The Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force will hold two Basic Clandestine Lab Recertification classes in each of the three regions in Tennessee (east, middle and west), according to a news release. Law enforcement officers who plan to attend are asked to try to RSVP two weeks before the meeting date to Debbie Maberry at email@example.com or (931) 260-9510. Classes will be held July 16 in Shelby County, July 17 in Putnam County, Aug. 7 in Gibson County, Aug. 8 in Giles County, Sept. 24 in Hamilton County and Sept. 26 in Washington County.
A Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling overturning the Chancery Court decision here on public notice for consideration of mosque building plans is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it took emotion out of a ruling by Chancellor Robert Corlew, who found that some matters are more important than others, such as the regional planning commission’s review of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro construction site plan, and should receive more attention in regard to adequate public notice. On the contrary, we believe that all local government meetings and legal ads should receive the same attention and proper adequate notice, without regard to controversy.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett made good on his pledge to pay for the newly constructed Carter Elementary School without adding to the county’s debt. But residents should know that this was a one-time event and major projects are not likely to be funded by the sale of surplus property. Last week Burchett presented a ceremonial check to Partners Development, the company that built the $13.9 million school. “It took a lot of effort to get to this point, but today we can officially say that Carter Elementary School is a realization,” Burchett told a crowd of roughly 200, adding that “citizen involvement matters, and elected officials do listen.”
Cellphones and corporal punishment in schools are issues that spark sharp disagreement among educators, students and parents. The Shelby County unified school board is scheduled to vote on policies on both matters at a special called meeting Tuesday. The board is racing to finalize policies that will apply to the merged Memphis and Shelby County school districts when Memphis City Schools ceases to exist July 1. Classes for the merged district will start Aug. 5. The board should accept proposals to ban corporal punishment and to allow cellphones in schools, with certain stipulations.
The trustees of Social Security recently reported that the retirement system can pay full benefits until 2035, when it will be able to pay about three-fourths of promised benefits. That is not a crisis. It is a manageable problem. The system needs to be restored to long-term health, but policy makers must realize that broad-based benefit cuts are not really a viable option. For most people, the ability to finance a secure retirement has been ruined by stagnating wages, repeated stock market busts, diminished home equity and weakened or nonexistent pensions. Social Security, whose average monthly retirement benefit is $1,268, is pretty much all that is left.