This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee’s exports increased 1 percent in the first half of the year, setting a new record for the state. The International Trade Administration says exports were $16 billion, up $300 million from the same period last year. The biggest export gains were increases of 60 percent to Singapore, 26 percent to the United Arab Emirates, 26 percent to South Korea and 17 percent to the Netherlands. The Intentional Trade Association’s Commercial Service has 100 offices in the United States — including in Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis — and in American embassies and consulates in more than 70 countries.
A recent news release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created some excitement across the country with a headline: “Many states and U.S. territories are showing decreases in childhood obesity.” The same CDC report listed Tennessee as one of three states where childhood obesity continues to increase. Childhood obesity has been of professional and personal interest for Dr. Satish Prahbu for many years. Prahbu is the founder and administrator of Rainbow Kids Clinic, a large pediatric clinic in Clarksville. In 2010, he started Rainbow Weight Clinic to focus more attention to childhood obesity.
Hospital systems in the region appear to be coming to a financial crossroads, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he understands what’s at stake. Top executives of Wellmont Health System, Mountain States Health Alliance and their respective hospital associations in Tennessee and Virginia have been saying this: We agreed to accept cuts under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) in exchange for expanded health insurance coverage that would reduce our bad debt and charity care. Those cuts, hospital officials note, are the reduced amount the federal government reimburses hospitals to take care of Medicare patients.
Maria Barrera gazed at what was left of her salon from the cab of her pickup truck Sunday as rain still lingered three days after the flood. She told how she had just bought new furniture for Salon Latijera, one of about a dozen Madison businesses on Gallatin Road located in an old motel partially lifted off its foundation by flood waters. The cleanup and recovery from Thursday’s floods remain a big task after the waters have receded. People still need help getting back into their homes, while business owners try to start over.
A year removed from an embarrassing nomination disaster, and one year before they’ll need to field candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate, Tennessee Democrats don’t have much of a short list of viable contenders for either office. They may not have a list at all. With two Democratic lawmakers passing on runs for governor in recent weeks, finding someone to embrace the underdog role in 2014 against Republican incumbents has become a struggle — even as Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander face their own political tests.
Tennessee Democrats think 2014 can be good for them. They hope, at the least, that the Volunteer State will become more purple in its politics, a shift from its deep red tendencies of late. Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron spoke to a gathering of local loyalists at the IBEW building off Bonny Oaks Drive last week, and he had words of encouragement. “Hang in there,” he told audience members. “It’s not a quick sprint. It’s a marathon.” Herron was speaking about the dominance of Republicans in recent Tennessee elections.
Though representatives of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and the Tennessee State Museum say there was nothing political in plans for a traveling museum exhibit on the Maryville Republican, email messages obtained by a Nashville TV station indicate Alexander’s re-election campaign manager was involved. As previously reported, the exhibit focusing on Alexander’s tenure as governor was initially scheduled to begin Sept. 7 in Knoxville, but was rescheduled for 2015 after questions were raised about the original tour coinciding with Alexander’s Senate re-election campaign.
When Joe Jansen blows out the candles on his 26th birthday cake this November, it may be a good moment to wish for a job with health benefits. Ever since the Affordable Care Act extended the time young adults could stay on their parents’ health insurance, the 26th birthday has become a new, somewhat unpleasant rite of passage for those who depended on the extra time to find footing in a recession-addled job market. Jansen is a full-time student at Chattanooga State Community College. His part-time job selling memberships at the YMCA doesn’t include health benefits.
The Memphis Office of Resources and Enterprise officially launches a new tool this week aimed at providing economic and development information for small business owners. The office will offer a primer on its interactive website at a public forum on Thursday from 10 to 11 a.m. at the City Hall Council Chambers, 125 N. Main. MORE, which was created in 2012 by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton as a centralized system to assist entrepreneurs with issues such as how to obtain business licenses and how to bid on city contracts, is a one-stop entry point where small business owners may turn to find the appropriate contacts for professional resources.
Students are running a little faster in Tennessee’s race toward better education, test scores show — but those who already were leading the pack are pulling farther ahead, leaving broader gaps when the state’s goal was to help the stragglers catch up. Experts say the remedy is more time with quality teachers — time that will help struggling students more than it helps the privileged, by giving them opportunities that many middle- and upper-class children already get at home. On Tuesday, Metro Nashville Schools Director Jesse Register will recommend that the school board add five more classroom days to a system in which more than 70 percent of students live in poverty.
It’s all down to the dollars. After months of negotiating, Hamilton County Schools officials and the local teachers union will finally put teacher salaries on the bargaining table. The school board asked Superintendent Rick Smith in June to explore a 3 to 5 percent raise for teachers, after Smith got a $25,000 salary bump. Such a move was projected to cost between $6 million and $10 million annually. Now officials say negotiations with teachers are winding down, with only matters of salary and benefits left on the table.
Today is the day as Knox County students head back to the classroom and begin the 2013-14 school year. For parents and students, here are a few things to know about this school year: There is a big focus on student safety Knox County Schools has added 47 school security officers, doubling its force. The new officers will be stationed at each of the middle and high schools and several of the elementary schools. Officers from the Knoxville Police Department and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office will also be in the schools.
Fulton High School students may not know it, but they are connected to students nearly 2,500 miles away. Four years ago, when the school went through a reconstruction — changing roughly 55 percent of its staff and redesigning the school’s structure — thanks to a federal grant, officials were able to work with Stanford University’s Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, Calif. The changes came following worrisome data results at the school, including a drop in its graduation rate to 43.6 percent and a less than 7 percent rate of its graduates earning a college degree.
State officials charged with protecting public safety, health and children’s welfare, and monitoring the economy, know this too well. Local officials and health providers know it, too. Tennessee’s pill habit is the second-worst in the United States. In 2011, 1,062 Tennesseans died of drug overdoses. That’s more than the number of people who died in traffic accidents. This year, 432 newborns have been diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome — they are undergoing withdrawal from the drugs their mothers are on.
One of the frequent criticisms leveled at the old Memphis City Schools district was that it was bloated with overpaid top administrators, despite the fact that an efficiency study showed otherwise. Recently released salaries of Shelby County Schools interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson and the 11 current and former members of his cabinet will likely add more fuel to that perception, and that is understandable. We understand why there is a disconnect with the public when top administrators in the school district are paid more, for example, than the Memphis mayor and some of his division directors. But trying to make apples-to-apples salary comparisons is fraught with all kinds of variables that do not take into account the duties and skill levels required to perform certain jobs.