This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
On Wednesday, Gov. Bill Haslam ramped up efforts to promote his “Drive to 55” higher education initiative. He gathered members of the General Assembly, higher education officials and business leaders in Nashville to talk about workforce development and the state’s and Tennesseans’ economic futures. This is a long-term challenge and an opportunity not to be missed, and one in which everyone has a stake. The goal of “Drive to 55” is to have 55 percent of Tennesseans with a two-year higher education degree or certification or a four-year degree by 2025. Currently, only about 32 percent of Tennesseans achieve that goal.
Gov. Bill Haslam moved Wednesday to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or technical training, saying his first job is to “change the culture of expectations” for higher education. The governor assembled about 500 business leaders, higher education administrators, legislators and others for a status report on his “Drive to 55” initiative and briefings from a pair of national experts on how to better align post-high school education with the state’s workforce needs. “Drive to 55” means increasing the number of Tennesseans with either formal technical training certificates — like welding or auto mechanics — or two-year associates degrees or higher from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025.
Gov. Bill Haslam sought to build support for his push to get more Tennesseans to continue their education past high school with an event Wednesday at Music City Center. The Tennessee Republican told about 300 business, political and education leaders that the state needs to lift the portion of residents with a college degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025 to stay competitive economically. That will mean adding about 494,000 college or technical school graduates over the next 13 years. In an event that was one part status update and one part sales pitch, Haslam attempted to lay out the rationale for his higher education goals, an initiative he calls the “Drive to 55.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam outlined initiatives included in his Drive to 55 initiative, which is designed to increase the number of Tennesseans with two-year degrees or higher to 55 percent by 2025. According to state statistics, an estimated 32 percent of adults in Tennessee have some sort of college degree. The program was announced earlier this summer. Among the progress Haslam highlighted to members of the General Assembly and university and college officials in Nashville, was the launch of WGU Tennessee, an online university created through a partnership between the state, Western Governors University and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this summer; a $47 million endowment to provide $2 million in scholarships for students who need financial aid; and $16.5 million earmarked in the state budget for workforce development programs at community colleges.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today convened key stakeholders including members of the General Assembly and leaders from Tennessee’s four-year colleges and universities, community colleges, colleges of applied technology, chambers of commerce, the business community, and the state board of education to discuss the challenges Tennessee faces in building a strong workforce for today and in the future. “We want Tennesseans working in Tennessee jobs. We want Tennesseans to have an opportunity to get a good job and for those in the workplace to be able to advance and get an even better job,” Haslam said.
Drive to 55 at first blush might sound like a highway speed-limit program left over from the 1970s. But it is actually Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s 21st century drive to speed up attainment of degrees and certificates by Tennesseans, something he said is crucial to the economic future of Tennessee, local governments and their residents. Haslam mentioned the program in his State of the State address in January but formally launched it Wednesday in Nashville and gave some updates on activities related to it so far.
Governor Bill Halsam unveiled a multi-million dollar proposal called the “Drive to 55” Plan to help get Tennesseeans jobs.cGovernor Haslam says he’s investing in Tennessee education, and announced a $35 million endowment that if approved by state lawmakers would provide nearly $2 million in additional scholarships each year. In the next five years, Governor Haslam says more than half of Tennessee jobs will require post secondary credentials. Governor Haslam doesn’t want people to underestimate the power of two-year associates degrees.
Governor Bill Haslam talked more in-depth about his plan to boost the number of college graduates in Tennessee during an event Wednesday. Haslam highlighted several college education initiatives, including the progress of the state-backed on-line college, Western Governors University. Governor Haslam also said in the next few weeks Tennessee would start distributing a $47 million endowment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with more than $16 million earmarked from the state budget for workforce development programs at community colleges.
Governor Sees Moral Responsibility To Intervene The average wage of a high school graduate in Tennessee is falling, as those with degrees make more money each year. Governor Bill Haslam is using this point to call for a drastic increase in Tennessee’s college completion rate. High school grads with full-time jobs saw average pay slip from roughly $39,000 in 2006 to $35,000 in 2011, according to research by Jeff Strohl of Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. During that same time, those with just a minimum amount of further education received raises, creating a growing gap between education levels.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today convened key stakeholders including members of the General Assembly and leaders from Tennessee’s four-year colleges and universities, community colleges, colleges of applied technology, chambers of commerce, the business community, and the state board of education to discuss the challenges Tennessee faces in building a strong workforce for today and in the future. “We want Tennesseans working in Tennessee jobs. We want Tennesseans to have an opportunity to get a good job and for those in the workplace to be able to advance and get an even better job,” Haslam said.
The jobs are coming; the jobs are here. Gov. Bill Haslam has been trekking across Middle Tennessee making one new jobs announcement after another during the past few weeks, and the numbers are mounting, into the thousands. “In just the past six or seven weeks, we’ve had three companies announce expansions that will bring at least 1,000 jobs each,” Haslam said this week during one of those events at auto supplier Calsonic Kansei North America in Shelbyville. They include 1,000 jobs for Aramark and 1,000 for UBS in Nashville; and 1,200 for Calsonic, in three locations — Shelbyville, Lewisburg and Smyrna.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed J. Parker Smith to the Tennessee Board of Regents as the representative of the First Congressional District. “I am grateful to Parker for serving our state in this important way,” Haslam said. “His experience and commitment will be valuable on the board.” Smith, 60, is vice president and general manager of Worldwide Manufacturing Support and Global Quality for Eastman Chemical Company. He has spent his entire career with Eastman, which he began as a co-op student while at North Carolina State University.
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed J. Parker Smith to the Tennessee Board of Regents. Smith will represent the 1st Congressional District. The 60-year-old is vice president and general manager of Worldwide Manufacturing Support and Global Quality for Eastman Chemical Co. Haslam says he believes Parker’s experience and commitment will benefit the board, which oversees six state universities, 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology.
ARC Automotive, Inc. will expand its Knoxville plant and add 115 jobs to meet its growing domestic and global sales. The manufacturer of inflator products for airbag applications is spending $3 million to enlarge its 21-year-old complex.The Knoxville-based company, which has offices in Japan and Korea and manufacturing facilities in China and Mexico, is bringing more of its production to the U.S. “Fast-growing, forward-thinking companies like ARC Automotive not only see the benefits of doing business in Tennessee, but also focus their efforts to return high quality manufacturing jobs from overseas markets,” said Bill Hagerty, Tennessee’s commissioner for economic and community development.
Auto parts manufacturer ARC Automotive Inc. announced Wednesday that it plans a $3 million expansion of its Knoxville operation, adding 115 new jobs. The Knoxville-based company said it has seen growing demand in the domestic and international automobile markets and is expanding to meet that need. Besides Knoxville, the company has facilities in Japan, Korea, China and Mexico. “ARC chose Knoxville for the expansion due in large part to its familiarity with the area labor market and continued dedication and hard work of its employees,” ARC Vice President of Human Resources Gabe Bucca said in a statement.
ARC Automotive, a global manufacturer of airbag inflator products, will soon add two new production lines at it’s Third Creek facility. The three-million-dollar investment will create 115 new jobs at the facility. ARC has been headquartered in Knoxville since 1992. The expansion increases the number of employees by 50 percent. “Once we get them here, we keep ’em,” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said. “It’s exactly what we’re seeing, they are finding out what a great area this is to do business in.” This is the company’s largest job expansion since the recession in 2008.
The Mountain Goat Trail project on Monteagle Mountain just got two kicks in the pants for the next and future segments of trail work in the areas of Monteagle, Palmer and Tracy City. The first boost for the Mountain Goat Trail project — which consists of plans for a smooth, walkable trail from Cowan, Tenn., in Franklin County to Palmer, Tenn., in Grundy County — came in August in the form of a $200,000 Recreational Trails Program grant, according to Mountain Goat Trail Alliance board President Janice Thomas and staff grant writer Patrick Dean.
Although state officials have made improvements in how driver service centers operate, motorists still have long wait times for service. The Tennessean reports attempts to cut wait times over the last two years have been hampered by computer issues and an increase in handgun permit applications. Gov. Bill Haslam promised two years ago to work on cutting the wait for customers at the centers. At one center in July, people waited an average of 40 minutes before getting service. At another center in Nashville, people were given estimated wait times of three hours.
Long lines are continuing to plague area DMVs and driver license reinstatement centers throughout Middle Tennessee. At a reinstatement center a couple of miles east of downtown Nashville, motorists waited in a long line outside of the building on Wednesday. News 2 spoke with Dickson County resident Cindy Parish who said she arrived to the station during the wee hours of the morning to ensure one of the first spots. “Two o’clock [in the morning] I was here,” she said. “I’m coming from Van Leer. It took me about an hour and a half to get here; and I was here yesterday and got here about 10 o’clock and the line was so long I just left.”
Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman got the CEO tour Wednesday of what fast-track improvement in schools looks like in a corner of the state where his reputation most depends on it. At Whitney Achievement Elementary, the first stop in a whirlwind of stops and sessions in the Achievement School District, two fifth-graders in white shirts and purple ties shook Huffman’s hand like job candidates. “We’re learning more,” said Ronald Willis, 10. “We have new teachers. They want us to strive harder and go to college and be successful in life.”
Former Sen. Howard Baker Jr. could not make it to the 10th anniversary celebration of the University of Tennessee center that bears his name, but officials made sure to save him a slice of his favorite cake — chocolate. Plenty of others also showed up Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the 87-year-old Tennessean’s namesake institute., the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy on Cumberland Avenue. More than 50 people milled about the rotunda snacking on cake and finger foods while looking at memorabilia from events hosted over the last decade.
Middle Tennessee State University’s top administrators and deans will meet with prospective students in six cities in September and October as part of its annual “True Blue Tour.” MTSU says that President Sidney A. McPhee, deans of the eight academic colleges, and financial aid and admissions counselors will be available to answer questions from prospective students and their parents in the six cities. The tour will include receptions in Chattanooga on Sept. 17; Johnson City on Sept. 23; Knoxville on Sept. 24; Nashville on Oct. 8; Memphis on Oct. 21; and Jackson on Oct. 22.
A Campbell County effort to launch Tennessee’s second virtual school under contract with K12 Inc. is apparently dead for the year and the status of the first, headquartered in Union County, may be in jeopardy next year because of poor student test scores. “We’ve made it clear to the Virtual Academy our concern with their results,” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters in response to a question Tuesday. “You know, if we’re going to hold people accountable, we need to hold people accountable everywhere in the education chain, including them.”
The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce announces today it is conducting an extensive economic study of the Nashville area in a bid to identify problems facing the region and opportunities for improvement. The chamber’s researchers are examining the Nashville area’s economy, workforce and quality of life. The study also will look at ways communities depend on one another. “This report will shine a light on the critical opportunities and needs in our region,” Ralph Schulz, the chamber’s president and CEO, said in a news release. “We expect to find many areas where we are excelling, as well as issues that present opportunity for improvement.”
The Shelby County Election Commission is the focus of another critical audit, this time focusing on the error-plagued agency’s competence in registering voters. A draft audit report prepared by Shelby County government’s internal audit unit found the commission failed to process dozens of voter registration applications between March 2012 and this January. The report also says that improper documentation made it impossible for auditors to identify election commission employees who processed or changed some voter registration records, and that a computer “user profile’’ used to make some changes was deleted during the audit.
The retired leader of the West Tennessee Drug Task Force for the 28th Judicial District says the task force could fold due to a lack of funding. Donny Blackwell, who retired as special agent in charge of the task force on Aug. 31, said the task force may not be in operation next year because the court is not assessing and collecting fines designated to fund the task force. The 28th District takes in Gibson, Crockett and Haywood counties. Clayburn Peeples is the head Circuit Court judge for the district.
The proposed congressional authorization of U.S. military action against Syria passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 10-7-1 Wednesday afternoon. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona successfully proposed language directing the Obama administration to attempt to “change the military equation on the battlefield” so as to help facilitate a negotiated end to the civil war and the departure of the country’s president, Bashar Assad. The measure has to pass the full Senate and make its way through the U.S. House of Representatives before it carries official congressional weight.
“None of us want the U.S. mired down in another conflict, so the committee has significantly limited the president’s original authorization, while still providing for an appropriate use of force in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons.” The resolution “prevents boots on the ground, limits the duration of any military action, and requires a progress report on the administration’s overall Syria policy. As we now move to the full Senate, the American people deserve a full and open debate about U.S. interests in Syria.” — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who voted for the resolution.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe has two things he wants to do before he casts his vote on a resolution authorizing military strikes against Syria. He wants to review the intelligence reports that concluded Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, killing 1,429, including 400 children. He also wants to revisit the Vietnam War Memorial and look once again over the 58,286 names etched into the black granite wall, a stark reminder of the human cost of war. “This is the hardest decision — because I’ve been asked to put young people’s lives at risk — since I’ve been in Congress,” said Roe, a Johnson City Republican.
Tennessee’s congressional delegation is being flooded by phone calls and emails regarding potential airstrikes in Syria. Democrat Jim Cooper of Nashville says he’s hearing from both sides. Republican Scott DesJarlais – who represents Murfreesboro and Shelbyville – says the response he’s hearing is overwhelmingly against military action. WPLN asked Nashville residents about their concerns of action and in-action in Syria. They sound as conflicted as many in Congress who are still on the fence. “I worry what happens if there are strikes against Syria, and I worry what happens if there aren’t strikes against Syria.” – Abbie Wolf of the Jewish Federation of Nashville. “I think it should be avoided if at all possible, if at all possible.” – Manuel Sir, retired dentist.
The No. 1 question about President Barack Obama’s health-care law is whether consumers will be able to afford the coverage. Now the answer is coming in. The biggest study yet of premiums posted by states finds that the sticker price for a 21-year-old buying a midrange policy will average about $270 a month. That’s before income-based government tax credits that bring down the cost for many people. For instance, a 21-year-old making $20,000 a year would pay $85 a month, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation Health Calculator, while one making $30,000 would pay $209.
The No. 1 question about President Barack Obama’s health care law is whether consumers will be able to afford the coverage. Now the answer is coming in. The biggest study yet of premiums posted by states finds that the sticker price for a 21-year-old buying a mid-range policy will average about $270 a month. That’s before government tax credits that act like a discount for most people, bringing down the cost based on their income. List-price premiums for a 40-year-old buying a mid-range plan will average close to $330, the study by Avalere Health found.
Maintaining strong enrollment is becoming a bigger worry for college administrators as cash-strapped families begin to balk at rising tuition bills, according to a survey by audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG LLP. The annual survey found that 37% of 103 higher-education leaders said they are “very concerned” about their ability to maintain current enrollment levels, up from 23% last year. The survey included 62 top administrators from private institutions and 41 from public ones.
Volkswagen Group of America’s chief executive said Wednesday the automaker’s Chattanooga workforce will decide on a works council labor board at the plant through “a formal vote,” and the result may or may not include third-party representation such as a union. “That process has to run its course,” said Jonathan Browning during a conference call with analysts and reporters on the automaker’s August U.S. sales results. “Those realities haven’t changed.” The CEO was responding to a question related to talks between top VW and United Auto Workers officials last week in Wolfsburg, Germany, over the potential of a works council at the Chattanooga factory.
The prospect of the United Auto Workers gaining a new foothold at Volkswagen’s plant in Tennessee worries some Southern Republicans, who say laws banning mandatory union membership have helped lure foreign automakers. But Volkswagen faces pressure from labor interests on its supervisory board to grant workers a stronger voice at the plant. And Handelsblatt, a German business newspaper, reported Monday that UAW President Bob King and five other officials discussed the Tennessee plant with the company’s employee relations chief last week at VW’s headquarters in Wolfsburg.
Hundreds of people with mental illness end up in local hospitals or jails simply because they don’t have access to basic care. Hoping to reduce those numbers, a new outpatient mental health facility has opened in downtown Chattanooga to serve those within a seven-county radius. The Mental Health Cooperative of Middle Tennessee opened doors at its Holtzclaw Avenue location Tuesday. The MHC, a Nashville-based nonprofit, provides psychiatric and psychological services to people with the fewest resources: Those on TennCare, or those without insurance.
Hutcheson Medical Center plans to sell its nursing home, Parkside at Hutcheson, as the publicly owned Fort Oglethorpe hospital looks for a new partner to manage its operations. “I just hope if anybody buys it, it stays like it is,” Wanda Parrish said Wednesday afternoon as she walked into the 109-bed nursing home on Hutcheson’s Fort Oglethorpe campus to visit her 88-year-old mother, Verna Bean, who’s lived there about five years. “We’ve been real satisfied. They take good care of her, and it’s real clean.” Hutcheson spokeswoman Stacey Kaufmann said the nursing home is profitable and now is 85 percent full.
Wednesday the Greater Memphis Chamber announced it will support a coming ballot initiative to raise taxes to fund a pre-kindergarten initiative. Buckman Gibson” Kathy Buckman Gibson, chairman of the board at Buckman, also joined with the Chamber. “In order for businesses to grow, it is essential for them to have access to a quality workforce,” said Buckman Gibson. “Pre-K education is critical to developing the kind of workforce that will help our businesses be successful.” The initiative seeks to provide Pre-k classes to 4,500 Memphis area children. A ballot initiative on the program is scheduled to be held this fall.
The Greater Memphis Chamber and members of the business community have come out in support of a half percent hike in the city sales tax rate to fund pre-kindergarten education for more than 4,500 4-year-olds in the city. The Memphis City Council in August approved an ordinance to put that tax increase on the ballot for city voters to raise money for what would be a city-administered pre-kindergarten program for children. A benefit is that it would include children currently left out of the system, and the importance of funding that program was stressed Wednesday, Sept. 4, by Kathy Buckman Gibson, chairman of the board of Buckman Laboratories International Inc., a privately held specialty chemical company.
A slimmed down Shelby County Board of Education showed how decisive it could be with its new, more nimble six-member configuration Tuesday night, and it’s getting good reviews for its quick decision to end a national search for a permanent leader and negotiate a contract with interim Supt. Dorsey Hopson. The decision likely would have required hours of debate by the 23-member board that saw Shelby County Schools through its difficult, complex merger with Memphis City Schools, said former board member Betty Mallott. Not that the outcome would have been different.
Somewhere around the time he underwent his first trial by fire – presenting the school system’s budget to the Shelby County Commission for approval – Dorsey Hopson began rethinking whether he was interested in being the superintendent of the consolidated school system on a long-term basis. “I truly haven’t had time to think about it,” Hopson said at a July 2 press conference to mark the July 1 formal start of the merger. That was a different answer than the one he had given over the previous five months when asked if he wanted the interim job on some kind of permanent basis.
The Knox County School Board approved a plan Wednesday night to transfer nearly $4 million to a new magnet high school. The money will come out of Pond Gap Elementary School’s funding and go toward the new Career Technical Education Center on Pellissippi State’s Strawberry Plains campus. The center will allow high school students to take college courses that will help them get their associate’s degree. Knox County Schools superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre said the new school will open career pathways for students.
Lamar Alexander can take some comfort in the fact that he did everything right, and everything he could, though it didn’t prevent him from getting a Republican primary opponent for his re-election campaign. Alexander did not get surprised like his Senate colleague Richard Lugar, who was upset by a no-name candidate in the Indiana Republican primary. Alexander recognized the threat early and started campaigning hard. He is in the process of raising millions of dollars and having access to millions more, if necessary. He has vowed to use all that money for a “shock-and-awe” campaign against any potential challenger. He visited around and talked down some potential candidates and their potential contributors.
The Shelby County Board of Education’s decision to name Dorsey Hopson superintendent of Shelby County Schools Tuesday was a good move. The only flaw in Hopson’s appointment is that it should have been done in a more transparent manner. For such an important job, the school board should have allowed some public comment before making the decision. Hopson, the former general counsel of Memphis City Schools, was named interim superintendent of both the old city and county school districts earlier this year after the resignations of Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash and Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken.