This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A group of community colleges in Tennessee is going into local high schools to try to help more students get ready for college math. The experiment has showed impressive early results, and now the state’s governor is forking over serious money to expand it. The four community colleges have worked with teachers at local high schools to run math labs for 600 high school seniors who appeared likely to place into remedial tracks after high school…Bill Haslam, the state’s Republican governor, caught wind of the project.
A petition signed by the heads of about half of Tennessee’s 137 public school districts which accuses Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman of having “no interest in a dialogue with” district leaders over how to improve their schools is off base. The superintendents do not like how Huffman is carrying out efforts to reform schools and ensure children are learning at grade level. He has not been shy about articulating what he thinks needs to be done at the state and local levels to improve the quality of teachers in classrooms.
Philanthropist Natalie L. Haslam was on hand Friday to help dedicate a new music building at the University of Tennessee named in her honor. The state-of-the-art addition to the campus is designed to showcase UT’s talented musicians and world-class faculty. Ms. Haslam and her husband Jim Haslam joined Gov. Bill Haslam, UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek, UT President Joe DiPietro, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, other state and local officials, and alumni to celebrate the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center, the new home of the UT School of Music.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander thought it was only appropriate that the $40 million Natalie L. Haslam Music Center showcase an iconic musical treasure from the past that could match the star power of the newly dedicated gem on the University of Tennessee campus. Given Tennessee’s deep roots in country music, Alexander came up with the perfect solution. Alexander and his wife, Honey, along with three other couples, gifted the original manuscript of “The Tennessee Waltz” to the university on Friday. “According to music historian Robert K. Oermann, finding this historic document is ‘like finding the Magna Carta of country music,’” said Alexander.
The price hike announced for January 2014 will be paired with a second change that also caused worry. The GED will be available only as a computer test and will no longer be offered on paper. “That caused some alarm,” said Marva Doremus, adult educationadministrator for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. She and education officials from other states worried that older students would be discouraged from taking a computer test and many would be unable to pay the new price of $120. Price is obstacle In Tennessee, the fee is currently about $75 and some people still need assistance to pay it.
A 400-acre wildlife sanctuary along the French Broad River in southeast Knox County is on track to become Tennessee’s newest state park. On Monday the Knox County commission will consider a resolution to transfer the Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge to the state of Tennessee. The commission is expected to approve the resolution at its next regular meeting on Sept. 23. Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to announce the land transfer on Sept. 20 at a luncheon at the Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge hosted by the Legacy Parks Foundation, the nonprofit land trust that manages the refuge.
Shortly after Launch Tennessee’s “The TENN Roadshow” bus rolled up outside First Tennessee Bank in Downtown Memphis on Friday morning, dozens of entrepreneurs, investors and supporters offered an enthusiastic welcome to a handful of creatives who have spent the last week crisscrossing the state to promote their technology-related companies. And there was plenty of promotion for local entrepreneurship as the roadshow completed its tour in Memphis. “A lot is happening in Memphis, particularly in our IT and biotechnical sectors,” said Allan Daisley, program director for the ZeroTo510 initiative that promotes medical device companies.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman didn’t offer any apologies in his first comments about a petition signed by more than 60 school superintendents that is critical of his leadership at the department. Media reported that Huffman disputed many assertions in the letter, which says his office “has no interest in a dialogue” with local school leaders, and adds that superintendents’ efforts to improve their schools are being thwarted by low teacher morale because of policy changes on the state level. “It has become obvious to the signees that our efforts to acquire a voice within this administration is futile,” according to the petition.
Tennessee educators fired a second salvo at Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman on Friday as Nashville’s teachers union announced a vote of no confidence in the beleaguered state leader. At the same time, a letter from school superintendents asking Gov. Bill Haslam to put the brakes on Huffman’s polices is continuing to gain momentum while its author solicits more signatures. The Metro Nashville Education Association, Nashville’s teachers union, voted Thursday night to openly oppose Huffman’s leadershipand threaten Haslam with political fallout if he continues to support Huffman’s policy changes.
University of Tennessee officials said Friday that they have no immediate plans to reopen bidding for natural gas drilling on university land, but they refused to rule out the possibility in the future should the “public need” arise. Kevin Hoyt, director of the Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center, and Bill Brown, dean of UT AgResearch, defended the scientific merits of a project that would have allowed “fracking” in a university forest on the Cumberland Plateau. But Hoyt and Brown added they did not plan to bend from the university’s terms, which included upfront cash payments, royalties and a lead role in research efforts.
The University of Tennessee has halted plans to conduct fracking research on the Cumberland Plateau after the school failed to generate interest from oil and gas companies. UT Institute of Agriculture officials announced Friday they may revisit the project “if there continues to be a need” for such research, but did not give a timetable on when or if they would re-evaluate the proposal. UT also cancelled a presentation on the project planned for the October board of trustees meeting.
The University of Tennessee is putting “on hold” a plan to research drilling for natural gas on state-owned land. That’s after no companies submitted bids last week for the project in UT’s Cumberland Forest. Only one drilling firm responded, saying it wouldn’t take part, unless perhaps the school’s proposal was restructured. In a statement today, a UT official says while it’s disappointing for the program, they’ll look at the feasibility of continuing. Opponents of the drilling process known as fracking want to block a lease the 8600-acre research area, northwest of Knoxville.
At mile marker 8 on “The Dragon,” there are two trees just off the roadside in a curve. On Friday morning, a Kawasaki Vulcan hit the first one, and its rider hit the second. The accident was the second in less than 1½ hours on the serpentine stretch, a manifestation of why the Tennessee Highway Patrol is heightening traffic enforcement there this weekend. Both motorcycle crashes were the result of excessive speed, said THP District Capt. David McGill, who was on scene during the two investigations. In the first, the rider was unhurt, but his Victory bike was loaded onto a rollback wrecker in pieces.
President Barack Obama’s administration hasn’t made a credible case for a limited military strike on Syria, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe told the Kingsport Kiwanis Club Friday. Roe, R-Tenn., said he could not support military intervention after hearing a classified briefing on the situation last Monday. “(The briefing) didn’t change my mind,” Roe told Kiwanians. “I really don’t see any reason for us to go in. … I don’t see the strategy. I don’t understand the strategy and what our outcome is going to be. For me it was three questions. One, is there a threat to the United States of America? They made no case for that. … Number two is what is your objective? Number three is how would you extract yourself? They have not answered that in the affirmative for me or the American people.”
Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander have both disagreed on how the U.S. should handle the crisis in Syria, but said they did agree President Obama lacked leadership in addressing the nation on the issue. “The president has not made the kind of case that I would have hoped relative to the importance of Syria to our national interest,” Corker told 6 News. Corker is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and helped write the surgical military strike proposal. Tuesday, the president told the nation the strike is in the country’s best interest.
Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker attended a roundtable discussion on power rates at the Tennessee Valley Authority in Knoxville today. “Nothing is more important to maintaining high family incomes and helping businesses create good jobs than TVA’s ability to provide large amounts of cheap, clean, reliable electricity,” Alexander said. Highlighting his time as Tennessee’s former governor, Alexander said low energy rates are critical to the overall economic health of the state and region. He also spoke aabot the TVA’s mix of energy sources and its importance in managing energy resources in the Tennessee Valley.
With open enrollment for purchasing health insurance from the federally run Tennessee health insurance exchange set to begin on Oct. 1, local health care organizations are preparing with operational changes and plans for educating patients. As many as 500,000 uninsured Tennesseans are expected to be eligible for insurance from the new exchange. Individuals and small businesses not eligible for employer-sponsored benefits can shop for coverage on the online market under open enrollment until March 31, and coverage starts on or after Jan. 1.
The Tennessee Valley Authority could avoid a scheduled rate increase next month and cut industrial rates by 30 percent if it scraps its oldest and dirtiest coal plants and finishes its incomplete nuclear plans using outside financing, according to a proposal presented today by former TVA Chairman Dennis Bottorff and energy consultants from Credit Suisse. “We have a unique opportunity in time with these half-finished nuclear plants and the potential of alternative financing to better meet the goals we established of having clean, reliable and low-cost power,” Bottorff said.
United Auto Workers President Bob King says he’d like Volkswagen to voluntarily recognize the union as the best choice to represent workers at VW’s Chattanooga plant and bypass “a divisive vote.” But, the National Right to Work Legal Foundation and an anti-UAW website representing some workers are calling for a secret ballot election for employees. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Friday in Knoxville that VW’s response to the UAW’s organizing effort in Chattanooga “is totally different” from what company leaders said they would do when they were negotiating to come to Chattanooga five years ago.
Maremont, an exhaust manufacturing and distribution facility in Loudon, will be shutting down next month. The company’s 150 employees were notified Friday morning, according to IMCO Vice-President & GM Jim Kosar. He said the decision to close came after the company lost its largest customer. Kosar added that some of the company’s assets will be sold and they already have a buyer. He would not identify the buyer nor would he say if the owner would be retaining any employees. The company’s employees were given 30 days notice, in compliance with the Warren Act. Any severance is yet to be determined.
Several Hamilton County schools will pilot iPads or other tablets this year as the district inches forward on its one-to-one technology initiative. For several months, information technology staff have worked on upgrading wireless and broadband capability at school buildings across the county. And now several private groups are jumping in to start getting devices into schools. The Benwood Foundation and the Public Education Foundation will pilot devices at six schools: Red Bank Elementary, Red Bank Middle, Red Bank High School, Calvin Donaldson Elementary, East Lake Academy and the Howard School. Officials hope such pilot programs will help the school system as it continues to roll out more devices.
It’s too bad the Affordable Care Act wasn’t dubbed Romneycare — after the Republican who actually pioneered it in Massachusetts. Romney’s program was in fact the model that President Obama used to create what is now known as Obamacare. Perhaps if the nation, and especially Congress and the many GOP governors around the country, knew the program as Romneycare, they wouldn’t be throwing up so many obstacles to a law aimed at making sure all Americans have health insurance that can’t dump them when they get sick. Alas, it’s a Democratic president’s program, and it is being held hostage by an obstructionist Congress and lots of state GOP politicians who are busily writing unnecessary rules to stop education and sign-up processes at the 11th hour before it takes full effect Oct. 1.