This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
As the new school year begins, Tennessee continues its leadership in the improvement of public education with the full implementation of Common Core State Standards in kindergarten through grade 12. Common Core is a set of rigorous academic standards that will better prepare students for success in our increasingly complicated and competitive world. Recently, some 20 school district superintendents from across East Tennessee came together to voice their strong support for Common Core State Standards.
When Jim Henry took over the embattled Tennessee Department of Children’s Services a few months ago, he knew he had to reinvent the department’s safety culture. The department, for years, has been engulfed in controversies over inadequate protections for children, children’s deaths and questions about how investigations were handled. Henry, a former state lawmaker who had long advocated for children with special needs, already was commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. In fact it was that background that seems to make him the right person for the job.
How far back can you remember experiences of your childhood? I remember climbing into my grandmother’s lap to hear her read fairy tales and sitting in a little red rocking chair next to my father’s chair with him reading the newspaper and me reading my ragged copy of “The Little Engine That Could.” Early experiences matter in a child’s life. If you’ve ever shared a book with a child, you know the joy that comes from reading together and sharing new worlds, words and characters. But did you know that reading with children also can lead to greater academic success?
In this interview, Governor Bill Haslam addresses a growing concern among businesses and government leaders in Tennessee — a workforce that falls short of the educational needs to do the jobs. Some of the problems include: By the year 2025, only 39 percent of adult Tennesseans will have a college degree or professional certification. 70 percent of Tennessee’s current high school graduates need remedial math and English classes when they enter college, setting them back in both time and money, which increases the college dropout rate.
On September 12, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced a $595,461 transportation alternative grant had been awarded to the city of Dickson for Phase III of its Downtown Revitalization Project. The project will add improvements to sections of West College Street and Main Street, and is a continuation of the overall downtown revitalization that began in 2008. Phase III includes sidewalks with brick pavers, new pavement, new crosswalks, and ADA compliant sidewalk ramps, parking areas and signage.
Local nonprofit Journeys in Community Living celebrated the hard work and dedication of its support staff over the past week as part of Direct Support Staff Recognition Week festivities. Gov. Bill Haslam proclaimed Sept. 8 through Sept. 14 Direct Support Staff Recognition Week in honor of the men and women who work tirelessly at various provider agencies across the state to aid people with developmental disabilities. Direct support staff are the people who work directly with individuals with disabilities in various roles, including aiding them with finding work, making healthy choices and in other aspects of everyday living.
Tennessee Department of Transportation officials’ plans for a $32 million regional headquarters in Chattanooga have taken an unexpected detour. State Building Commission members voted last week to send the project, which would replace the 58-year-old Region II headquarters on Cromwell Road, to the panel’s executive subcommittee amid questions over its proposed funding sources. TDOT Commissioner John Schroer plans to foot $15.8 million of the cost using leftover funds or savings on already “closed” capital construction projects.
Navigators, the federal contract workers tasked with doing outreach to let people know about medical coverage opportunities under the federal health law, could face a last-minute hurdle from the state of Tennessee. With just over two weeks before the navigators are supposed to start work, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance is still writing rules on how to regulate them. The legislature passed a law this year prohibiting navigators from selling, soliciting or negotiating any insurance policy.
You might think someone who excoriates President Barack Obama for his handling of Syria and questions his ability to lead would no longer be interested in dealing with the White House. But Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who brokered real estate deals in an earlier life, says he’d like to keep working with the president on a raft of thorny issues facing the nation. “I’m a businessman and I want to solve problems,” the former Chattanooga mayor said Friday. “And part of solving problems is working with the folks who are going to play a leading role in helping make that happen, and the White House is going to continually play some role in that.”
At 62 years old, Mattie Billings says her arthritis and bronchitis prevent her from finding another job and her age makes it too expensive to buy health insurance. The former hospital service worker, who lost her job in January and her unemployment benefits this summer, thought she would get some help from the health care reform plan known as Obamacare. But to her surprise and frustration, Billings learned during a seminar on the Affordable Care Act that many of those living below the poverty level in Tennessee and Georgia won’t get any extra help next year even though many higher-income people will.
Erlanger Health System hopes that a $4.5 million investment in a new high-tech scanner could one day serve future cancer and neuroscience centers at the hospital. But first, the public hospital will have to go before a state board to justify the need for another PET-CT scanner — and prove that the potential purchase isn’t just part of a medical arms race in a region where hospitals are highly competitive. The scanner the hospital is trying to buy combines images from a PET scan and a CT scan. A CT scan shows tissues and organs inside the body, while a PET scan reveals any abnormal activity that could be happening in those organs.
For Jessica Rainwater, the fourth time was the charm. But not without help, she says. The 16-year-old former L&N STEM Academy student, who is now a junior at Halls High School, says that while at the academy she was given her three prior tests to use while taking a history “End of Course” test a fourth time. She had failed the test the first three times. “At the time I didn’t think it was cheating or anything because the teacher approved it. And I thought if the teacher approved it then it must be fine,” she said. “But I thought about it more and told Dad and he wasn’t (happy).”
Before we talk about the startling events out of Gatlinburg, let’s first discuss the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or as it’s loathsomely known to many teachers and students, the TCAP. (Personally, I’d rather watch paint dry. But this conversation is important. And you’re not going to like it one bit.) TCAP is among the most important documents in the state. It influences teacher salaries and kids’ final grades. It determines curriculum and what’s taught and what isn’t. And if Nashville has its way, the TCAP could soon help determine which teachers are licensed and which aren’t. So you’d think — since so many livelihoods are staked to this — that it would be an expert test. Bulletproof. Perfect in every way.
Question: If we expand Medicaid in Tennessee, like 25 other states already have done to provide basic health insurance to the poor, will we ultimately spend more money on health care for our citizens? Let’s review the facts. Fact 1: Hospitals — not clinics — that accept either Medicare or Medicaid, meaning 99 percent of all hospitals in this country, are required by federal law to provide services for anyone who needs health care, regardless of whether they have insurance or any other means to pay. Fact 2: Providing health care in outpatient clinics is far less expensive than providing care in emergency rooms.
Starting Oct. 1, Americans will be able to get health insurance via online comparison shopping under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. All plans will meet certain required standards of coverage. Those of us who already have health care coverage need not do anything but can peek at alternate offerings. While people can shop on their own, many helpers, often volunteers, will assist them in making choices, securing coverage and getting any eligible subsidies. You’d think this plan — private, insurance-based and competitive — would be applauded by conservatives. It is similar to plans by Bob Dole, Mitt Romney and even the Heritage Foundation.
October 2014 is a month that our nation has eyed for more than four years. We will take a historic step to revamp our health care system by enrolling millions of Americans in federally mandated health insurance coverage. At the same time, our city will take another critical step to ensure leaders from Nashville’s largest industry are poised for the future of health care as we plan for the second Nashville Health Care Council Fellows class. For the nation, years — decades — of planning brought us here. We embark on this journey of health care reform knowing it is the most critical since Medicare and Medicaid started in the 1960s.
In August, President Barack Obama proposed a plan to rein in tuition costs at colleges and universities. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education will begin to rate institutions of higher learning based on certain measures that reflect its priorities. In 2018, the ratings will determine who will be awarded federal financial aid and how much. This plan is a bad idea. Some of the proposed measures reveal little about the quality of an institution. For example, the oft-cited graduation rate is a meaningless statistic. This measure includes only first-time, full-time students who begin in the fall semester and graduate from the same institution within six years.