This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or technical certificates is a bold and necessary drive to improve the state’s workforce. Haslam’s proposal, which he rolled out last week, aims to boost the percentage of Tennesseans with post-secondary credentials from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025. That is an ambitious goal — according to the governor’s office, if every high school graduate in Tennessee goes on to obtain a degree or certificate, the state would still fall short of the 55 percent goal.
To say that August and September have brought good news about job creation and financial investment in Middle Tennessee would be something of an understatement. Actually since June, five companies have announced at least $600 million in investments in the region with the creation or retention of approximately 5,000 jobs. The effects of these announcements on the area’s economy do not include the so-called “multiplier effect” that, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, means that for every $1 spent in manufacturing another $1.48 is added to the economy. Most of these new investments are in manufacturing.
Here is one thing government has gotten right. The state of Tennessee’s online presence has been named the best state website in the country in the “Best of the Web” competition sponsored by the Center for Digital Government. In our digital age, government websites enhance democracy by making it easier to access government services, follow legislative action, communicate with government officials, and make valuable government information readily available to the public.
I used to work in the James K. Polk State Office Building in Nashville. It’s a tall building — modernist, glass-walled and perched atop the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. On April 17, 2011, a glass window fell from one of the building’s upper floors. It was the 11th time a window had fallen out since the building had opened in 1981, which wasn’t surprising since many of the windows were separated from their frames by a half-inch or more.
In what’s now a case of dueling legal opinions, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper says the state law that allows charter schools to operate here doesn’t impose financial burdens on local school districts in violation of the state constitution. That’s an opposite conclusion to one reached by a Metro Nashville Public Schools attorney, who opined last month that the state’s failure to offset such costs is unconstitutional. Its release, and distribution to school board members, set off a fierce debate over the cost of charters and hinted at the possibility of future litigation.
The narrative about Tennessee’s public schools in the past few years has been dominated by reform and improvement. State officials contend that their policy shifts on everything from teacher accountability to state standards have been successful, as evidenced by growth on student test scores. And by and large, test scores have slowly but surely improved statewide. Again this year, more of Tennessee’s students passed state tests in math, science and reading. But the last few years of testing data, especially in Hamilton County, show that scores in reading and language arts are barely inching forward.
The Houston charter school operator founded by Chris Barbic, the superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, has ambitious plans for Memphis. YES Prep is among the charter school operators being considered for the third year of the state-run district for the state’s bottom 5 percent of schools in terms of student achievement. Decisions by the ASD on which of the Memphis schools in the bottom 5 percent will be matched with which providers won’t come until December.
Workers for the Tennessee Department of Transportation could soon be out of job – if they don’t get their GEDs or meet degree requirements for their position. A TDOT spokesperson tells us it is all a part of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s plan to make government more efficient. “The new employees they bring in, Yes, I can understand them getting their GED’s, but us older ones are going to be going out,” said TDOT employee Cherryl Redmond. Redmond doesn’t believe she needs a high school education to do what she’s done for nearly 20 years – cleaning up the roadways.
Big ideas were inside the big bus rolling into the parking lot at Eastman Chemical Co.’s corporate headquarters on Monday morning. Exiting the bus were 10 entrepreneurs picked by LaunchTN — a Tennessee nonprofit organization helping new business startups — to participate in “The TENN” program to accelerate their growth. They were chosen from 20 companies that did a sales pitch on a statewide demonstration day last August. Now they’re doing a road show to raise awareness for the program and get face time with potential investors.
Homegrown Memphis small businesses called on Capitol Hill’s leading tax reform proponents Monday to demystify the tax code and roll back taxes on corporate profits. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Senate Finance Committee chairman, and Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., House Ways and Means Committee chairman, ginned up an earful of advice from the nation’s heartland during stops at a Fayette County farm and the FedEx Express world hub in Memphis. It was the fourth and final stop on a summer fact-finding tour by two of the most influential leaders of the 113th U.S. Congress.
State Sen. Charlotte Burks says she will not seek re-election next year. The Monterey Democrat did not immediately return a call to The Associated Press on Monday. But she told the Cookeville Herald-Citizen that she believes she’s served the 15th District with “honesty and integrity.” “It has been an honor to represent the people of the 15th Senatorial District over the years,” said Burks, who has been in the state Senate since 1998. “I have tried to focus on the issues that are important to our families and our everyday life.” Burks, a farmer, made Tennessee history when she was elected as the first ever “write-in” candidate to the upper chamber after the tragic death of her husband, State Sen. Tommy Burks.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander says he will oppose a measure authorizing U.S. military force against Syria. The Tennessee lawmaker said on Monday that a strike carries too much risk and could set off a series of events leading to greater U.S. involvement in another long-term Mideast war. He warned about the uncertainty in agreeing to President Barack Obama’s request for military intervention after last month’s deadly chemical weapons attack. Alexander was announcing his position at a speech in Nashville.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Monday that President Barack Obama’s call for U.S. military strikes punishing Syria’s regime over alleged use of chemical weapons poses too many unknown risks and could backfire. As a result, Alexander said he won’t be voting for a resolution authorizing the U.S. to launch military strikes against Syria.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Monday he will vote against authorizing military strikes against Syria, arguing there is too much risk and too much uncertainty about what would come next. “After step A, what will be steps B, C, D and E?” the Maryville Republican asked. “I see too much risk that the strike will do more harm than good by setting off a chain of consequences that could involve American fighting men and women in another long-term Middle East conflict.”
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Monday that he plans to vote against military action in Syria, delivering another blow to President Barack Obama’s efforts to build a winning coalition in Congress.“I will vote ‘no’ because I see too much uncertainty about what comes next. After step A, what will be steps B, C, D and E? I see too much risk that a military strike could do more harm than good and set off a chain of consequences that could involve America’s military men and women in yet another long-term civil war in the Middle East. There should be other ways, more consistent with American vital national security interests, to show our disgust and to discourage the apparent use by the Syrian government of chemical weapons on its own people.”
Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) today issued the following statement announcing that she will oppose giving President Barack Obama the authority to take military action in Syria: “The gravity of the decision to take action in Syria and potentially send our men and women in uniform into battle weighs on me and many of my colleagues. To reach a decision, I have visited extensively with constituents who have family or have lived in region; military personnel and their families, military retirees – many who have been active in military intelligence; and members of our Kurdish community who have themselves faced such vile treatment.”
In a rapid and remarkable chain of events, Syria welcomed the idea of turning over all of its chemical weapons for destruction on Monday, and President Barack Obama, though expressing deep skepticism, declared it a “potentially a significant breakthrough” that could head off the threats of U.S. air strikes that have set the world on edge. The administration pressed ahead in its efforts to persuade Congress to authorize a military strike, and Obama said the day’s developments were doubtless due in part to the “credible possibility” of that action.
The organization I lead, the United Negro College Fund, the nation’s largest minority education organization, and Metro Nashville Public Schools share a critical mission: We are dedicated to making sure our children get the education they need to compete in the 21st-century economy. At UNCF, we want to see today’s elementary and secondary school students receive our scholarships and attend our member colleges and universities — including Nashville’s own Fisk University — or any other college. And Nashville needs these young people to complete their education so they can become its next generation of leaders.