This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee’s charter schools are among the most improved in the country in a study of math and reading test scores by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which has earned a reputation for objectivity in the highly combustible charter school debate. Using a formula that translates performance relative to national averages into more or less “days of learning” compared to traditional public schools, CREDO reported that Tennessee charter school students benefitted from 86 more “days of learning” in reading from the 2005-06 school year through the 2010-11 school year and 72 more “days of learning” in math.
Students attending publicly funded, privately run charter schools posted slightly higher learning gains overall in reading than their peers in traditional public schools and about the same gains in math, but the results varied drastically by state, according to one of the most comprehensive studies of U.S. charter schools. The study, published Tuesday by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, found that charter students in Rhode Island, for example, gained the equivalent of an additional 86 days of reading comprehension and 108 days of math comprehension annually compared with peers in traditional public schools.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he intends to continue privatizing some state government operations. A contract to have a Chicago-based company manage state office space created controversy. It takes effect July 1 and 126 General Services Department workers will be laid off. Haslam told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the administration will look at outsourcing work where practical. “I think our job is to deliver the very best service at the lowest price, and I’ve said that from the very beginning,” Haslam said last week, adding, “I think particularly this case with the real estate space is a great example of that.”
More Tennessee doctors are saying no to expectant mothers who want to have their baby early. A statewide campaign has reduced early elective deliveries by 75 percent. The scientific evidence shows that babies carried 39 weeks and beyond have lower risks of complications. And while obstetricians know the research, they also want to please their patients, who have their own reasons for wanting to be induced ahead of schedule. Dr. David Adair is director of maternal-fetal medicine at Chattanooga’s Erlanger Medical Center.
Tennessee and Nashville have agreed to cash incentives to keep filming of ABC’s ‘Nashville’ in Music City for the show’s second season, the state announced today. The state’s Department of Economic and Community Development approved a grant of up to $12.5 million to support the show. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s office also has proposed a cash grant of $500,000. That’s on top of $250,000 promised by the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. and its Event Marketing Fund.
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development has approved a grant of up to $12.5 million to support the local production of ABC’s Nashville, the agency announced Monday. Mayor Karl Dean has also agreed, on behalf of Metro, to provide a $500,000 cash grant for the production of the show, something that Dean’s office has previously referred to as advertising the city can’t buy. There had been speculation about the possibility of the show leaving Nashville for its second season, but ABC confirmed last week that the show would remain in its title city.
The total government incentive package for shooting season 2 of the TV show “Nashville” could top $13 million. On Monday the city announced it would chip in $750,000. The state is still doing the big spending. It has committed $12.5 million in reimbursements for expenses paid to Tennessee vendors or employees. After keeping the city’s wallet shut for season 1, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is proposing a cash payment of $500,000 to the show’s producers. This would have to be approved by the Metro Council.
The Department of Children’s Services experienced “real setbacks” and “disappointing” progress in 2012, according to a new report filed in federal court Monday. DCS placed more children in the foster care system for longer periods of time, allowed dangerous delays in investigating child abuse and neglect reports, and failed to adequately prepare older children leaving foster care for adult life, according to the 615-page report. “In terms of improving its safety net for children and families, the state failed to move the ball forward last year, and that’s troubling,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights, a New York-based watchdog agency.
An independent monitor for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services says the agency’s progress in 2012 was disappointing. The Technical Assistance Committee reports to a federal judge on DCS’ performance as part of a 2001 settlement over the agency’s treatment of foster children. Among other things, the 2012 report found that workers took too long to make contact with child victims. In the highest priority cases, where children were considered potentially to be in imminent danger, caseworkers made contact within the required 24 hours between about 30 and 70 percent of the time.
A new 600-page report has some critical opinions of the state’s Department of Children’s Services and how they’re protecting children in need. The report was filed in a federal court Monday, which was part of an annual review. It was part of a class action lawsuit brought against DCS by Children’s Rights, a national watchdog organization advocating on behalf of abused and neglected children in the U.S. The group claims the agency violated the constitutional rights of kids in foster care. The study found caseworkers took too long to investigate reports of abuse or neglect.
If Tennessee ranks low among states for child well-being, the picture looks even worse when we’re compared to developed nations. That’s what a leading child researcher said Monday in response to the latest national rankings. Tennessee ranked 39th for child well-being — measured by 16 factors — in The Annie E. Casey Foundation “Kids Count” report. At an event to discuss the findings, Dale Farran, senior associate director of the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University, said Tennessee and the nation are particularly lagging in preschool programs for young children.
More Tennessee families are trying to raise children in the face of poverty and homelessness, according to an annual survey released Monday, June 24, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The number of Tennessee children living in poverty increased to 26 percent in 2011, compared with 21 percent in 2005, before the recession. About 34 percent of the state’s children lack secure employment, while an estimated 35 percent live in a household with a high housing cost burden, the survey found.
Tennessee’s School Board signaled last week it could soon get harder for the state’s teachers to stay licensed. Under the proposal, those with years of bad evaluations or low test scores would see their licenses expire, and have to work for renewal. The proposal would automatically renew licenses for good teachers. But a new teacher steadily scoring at the bottom of the state’s 1-to-5 scale most years would eventually lapse, says Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “If she wanted to come back into the classroom she would need to re-enroll in a licensure preparation program.
Independent monitors of Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services say progress on the foster care system stalled in 2012. The annual report is part of a 13-year-old court case known as “Brian A.” Steady improvement was being made on the settlement benchmarks, like keeping kids close to their hometowns and avoiding breaking up sibling groups. But 2012 was a step backwards. For instance, nearly three-quarters of foster children had no written plan for how they would support themselves after leaving the system.
The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced Monday afternoon that infused alcohols will not be prohibited. Keith Bell, TABC director, said in a statement that the decision was made in order to “formulate workable guidelines and definitions so as to gauge the growing and changing taste and desires of the consuming public.” This announcement comes after the commission said it would begin issuing penalties to establishments serving infused alcoholic drinks. Bell originally cited health concerns over the prohibition decision, which drew its basis from a 2006 law.
Rest easy, Tennessee bartenders: A temporary resolution is in hand to the legal confusion over the infusion of fruit, vegetables, spices and more into cocktails. Keith Bell, state Alcoholic Beverage Commission director, backed off Monday on his plans to crack down on restaurants’ and bars’ creative altering of alcohol, including vodka or bourbon, by infusing them with ingredients including bacon fat. Citing his interpretation of a 2006 state law and a potential threat to health, Bell has said he intended to cite establishments engaging in homemade infusions in which ingredients are soaked over time in alcohol.
Tennessee’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission has decided not to begin enforcing its new interpretation of a rule it said meant bars couldn’t “infuse” liquors for flavor using other ingredients like fruit. Some had feared the move would hurt restaurants serving drinks like margaritas and sangria, and a lawyer representing a couple national restaurant chains sent a letter challenging the commission’s interpretation of the 2006 last week.
The owners of Patten Towers have violated a low-income tax credit agreement and have not taken the steps necessary to become certified as a low-income management group in Tennessee, the state charged in a letter sent to PK Management’s founder. If PK Management does not begin to comply with the terms of its agreement by July 3, it will be in default on its legal obligation and could face a court battle, wrote Ralph Perrey, executive director of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency. PK Management did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
The county Solid Waste Department learned Monday that the state has accepted its documented efforts to make corrections about worker-safety issues at the county landfill. “This case is closed,” said Mac Nolen, the director of county solid waste and landfill operations. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Division of Occupational Safety and Health (TOSHA) had a staff member inspect the county landfill April 19. A letter sent to the county May 20 about the citations gave Nolen until June 22 to make documented corrections about nine serious violations and three non-serious violations.
A state judge lifted a freeze on plans to lay off approximately 200 public employees, ruling that there was little evidence to suggest Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration broke state law. Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon decided Monday that managers in eight state agencies did not have a legal obligation to help laid-off state workers find new jobs and that a decision to take down NeoGov, a job-listing website, did not cause irreparable harm to public employees laid off this spring. The ruling clears the way for layoffs to begin immediately.
Gov. Bill Haslam is readying plans to lay off about 200 state workers by week’s end after a state judge on Monday lifted her temporary injunction on the planned firings. Ruling from the bench, Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon said state officials did not break any laws in their handling of the firings because they had no legal duty to help employees find new jobs within state government. The judge also found no irreparable harm was done when the state froze hiring for weeks in the midst of a 60-day layoff period in May and June when officials took down their NeoGov online listings for available jobs.
A state court judge on Monday denied an injunction request filed by attorney John Jay Hooker against the group that nominates appeals judges to the governor. Circuit Court Judge Hamilton Gayden, who has sided selectively with Hooker in the past and been overruled by a higher court, said that since the state Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on a Hooker case in July, he has to defer to the high court’s judgment. The setback represents the eighth time Hooker has gone to the courts to change the way Tennesseans elect appellate judges.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has appointed a Kingsport social studies teacher to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System Board of Trustees. The Blountville Republican made the announcement this week. The teacher, Kevin Fielden, is a graduate of East Tennessee State University and has taught social studies in northeast Tennessee for 20 years. The 20-member board is responsible for the general administration and operation of TCRS overseeing a nearly $35 billion trust fund for state and local employee pensions.
Former State Sen. Mike Faulk received a plaque of appreciation Monday from two Hawkins County commissioners who were colleagues back in Faulk’s days on the county commission. An attorney based in Church Hill, in 2012 Faulk ended a four year stint on the Tennessee State Senate. Prior to that he served on the Hawkins County Commission representing District 1 in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The commission’s two remaining members from the Faulk era, Dwight Carter and Virgil Mallett, presented Faulk Monday evening with a plaque thanking him for his service to Hawkins County, both as a county commissioner and a senator.
It was less than a year ago that some Shelby County voters received incorrect ballots as they attempted to vote in races that included six municipal school referendums. The Shelby County Election Commission took a lot of heat for those mistakes and has spent the last seven months making sure it doesn’t happen again, said commission chairman Robert Meyers. In what the commission has called its “Data Integrity Project,” information technology personnel with the county and the commission have been working to make sure each voter’s address has been assigned the correct ballot.
The most critical vote at last week’s budget-dominated Memphis City Council meeting may have been the vote to adjourn leaving final budget decisions pending. It left a week for all sides in the ongoing budget drama at City Hall a wealth of time by political standards to build support for their respective positions. The council meets in special session Tuesday, June 25, at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St. The council had a voting majority last week for amendments that cut $24.4 million from the operating budget proposal of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
Never mind the steamy weather, connecting local small businesses with big government contracts was the hot topic at the FedEx Institute of Technology on Monday during U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s procurement fair that drew about 200 area entrepreneurs. For the second consecutive year — and the third time since the event was first staged in 2010 — Cohen hosted a public workshop aimed at demystifying the process of bidding on and winning contracts for government projects.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen doesn’t remember the National Security Agency and intelligence officials briefing Congress on their gathering of telephone and email records and the tracking of the communications of millions of American citizens. But he has his doubts because he says the agencies involved routinely lie. “I don’t recall any of that and don’t believe that occurred,” Cohen said of claims by NSA leaders that they briefed members of Congress and Intelligence Committee leaders in classified briefings several times.
The Obama administration announced new steps to expand coverage under the federal health care law on Monday, less than a week after the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, found that the federal government and many states were “behind schedule” in setting up marketplaces where Americans are supposed to be able to buy insurance. The steps — establishing a Web site and a telephone call center to provide information to consumers — are in preparation for what the government anticipates will be a flood of people buying health insurance starting Oct. 1.
A new University of Tennessee report finds that if the federal government decides to go ahead with divesting the Tennessee Valley Authority, the public utility could be broken up among several private power generators in the region. The study conducted by the school’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy was released on Monday. It finds that it would be unlikely that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would approve the sale of the entire TVA to a single company.
Erlanger hospital continued to tighten its losses last month, but a nearly $200,000 loss in May means hospital leaders have braced to end this fiscal year with a deficit. In the public hospital’s monthly budget and finance committee meeting Monday, reports showed that the hospital is currently $9.8 million in the red. Hospital leaders pointed out that at this time last year, the hospital was running a $15.2 million deficit. “Operationally, we’re in much better shape,” said committee Chairman Donnie Hutcherson after the meeting.
Chattanooga is finding itself in the center of an increasingly pitched battle over unionizing Volkswagen’s auto assembly plant. A Washington, D.C.-based group is ramping up a summer-long campaign to convince plant workers and Chattanoogans in general about what it calls “devastating” consequences for the factory, city and state should the employees unionize. Pro-union forces, such as the Michigan-based United Auto Workers, continue to press their case for what they say is “a new model” where the workforce and management aren’t adversarial but rather vie for the same goal.
It’s mostly quiet at the University of Memphis in late June. At E.C. Ball Hall, the second-largest teacher training program in the state, the mood is just short of giddy. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked it among the highest performing teacher training programs in the nation in joint research with the National Council on Teacher Quality. The U of M earned three stars out of a possible four in its program for undergraduate elementary teachers and its graduate program for secondary teachers.
Children stare at computer screens, their faces tight with concentration, typing numbers, letters and symbols on their keyboards in a seemingly nonsensical pattern. A string of entries, the press of a key, and one smiles as an animated dog moves across the screen. Across the room, another wears a T-shirt that reads, “I do mass quantities of code,” his eyes darting quickly as he types. These 13- and 14-year-olds aren’t on Facebook or tweeting, but instead are studying the growing field that allowed for the mega-popular social media sites to be born.
The administration of Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Haslam last week pushed through a plan to change the minimum salary schedule for teachers — a schedule that, come 2014, will no longer automatically reward experience and advanced degrees. On the surface, the new education pay plan sounds like one that doesn’t value education — at least not that of the teachers. But Haslam says the new pay scale and its state-mandated minimums will free school districts to better reward performance and to better fill hard-to-staff positions. The decisions and policies on how to measure performance and how to “better reward” it will be up to the school districts and county commissions.
Tennessee has a long history of promoting good public policies for children, and many of those policies and programs are paying off in better outcomes. The state ranks 39th in overall child well-being in the 2013 National Kids Count Data Book, based on 16 indicators in four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Tennessee improved on nine indicators, held steady on one and dropped slightly on six, mostly related to poverty and single parent families. Tennessee’s best ranking is in the health domain at 33rd with improvement in all four indicators. The percentage of low-birthweight babies, children without health insurance, teens who abuse alcohol or drugs and the rate of child and teen deaths all improved from the base year.