This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointments of 172 Tennesseans to 70 boards and commissions. Among those from Rutherford County tapped for these positions are Kay Woods Davenport of Smyrna, Advisory Council for Alternative Education; Ginny Williams of Smyrna, Sam Davis Memorial Association Board of Trustees; Greg Persinger, Murfreesboro, State Workforce Development Board; Opheca Jordan, Smyrna, State Wide Independent Living Council; Mike Boner, La Vergne,Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction Board; Greg Lyles, Murfreesboro, Volunteer Tennessee Commission; and Elly Jones, Murfreesboro, West Tennessee Seismic Safety Commission.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a $589,000 workforce development grant for Dyersburg State Community College to help meet the advanced manufacturing needs of the area. The governor proposed and the General Assembly approved $16.5 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges, part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary credentials.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced on Tuesday a $589,022 workforce development grant for Dyersburg State Community College to help meet the advanced manufacturing needs of the area. An array of state and local political figures, business people, educators, and students joined Haslam in the Learning Resource Center at Dyersburg State Community College for the announcement. This $589,022 grant will help the college establish two advanced manufacturing labs — in Dyersburg and Tipton County — and move forward with its proposed Associate of Applied Science degree in Advanced Manufacturing.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced today the award of a $595,461 transportation alternative grant to the City of Dickson for Phase III of the 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.
Northeast State Community College officials continue to expand ways to help students get a four-year degree, announcing Wednesday an agreement with Western Governors University Tennessee. “They say that knowledge is power, but they got it a little bit wrong. Knowledge is freedom,” said David Golden, Eastman Chemical Co. vice president, chief legal counsel and corporate secretary, at a news conference at the Blountville campus. Western Governors University was founded in 1997 when several governors in western states wanted to take advantage of new technology and increase access to education.
Northeast State Community College graduates, faculty and staff will be able to transfer credits from Northeast to WGU Tennessee seamlessly. NSCC and WGU Tennessee, http://tennessee.wgu.edu/, Wednesday morning announced the signing of an articulation agreement and memorandum of understanding that allow Northeast State graduates and staff to receive application fee waivers and discounted tuition to WGU Tennessee. WGU tuition is $3,000 a semester or $6,000 a year regardless of how many semester hours a student takes.
As state lawmakers open two days of public hearings on Tennessee’s use of national Common Core education standards, Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he feels “very strongly that Common Core is important” for the state’s progress in education. The governor said he believes the nationwide standards help parents, educators and others understand what students should know at each grade level. “We think it’s really important that in Tennessee we not drop our standards.” The state Senate Education Committee Thursday afternoon opens two days of review of Common Core and a hearing in which opponents and supporters will present their views.
At an education policy conference in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam lumped opposition to the much-maligned Common Core State Standards Initiative in with the resistance to education reform in general he sees in Tennessee and around the country. But unlike the successful efforts of the Republican governor and the GOP-run General Assembly to overhaul teacher evaluation and tenure-achievement processes — and in general roll back the power of the state’s largest teachers union — attacks against Common Core are coming, politically, from all over the place.
Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee legislature are preparing for a fight over what the state’s students should read and learn, with critics from across the political landscape teaming up to try to sink new standards they claim will weaken education. An assortment of foes — from tea party activists to teacher advocates — are urging lawmakers to rethink the Common Core program, a set of benchmarks meant to raise education levels nationwide. Tennessee agreed to the standards three years ago, and Haslam wants to make them stick.
The Senate Education Committee is holding hearings Thursday and Friday to discuss a new set of benchmarks for math and reading. Supporters of the common core standards say they provide students with critical thinking, problem solving and strong writing skills they need to help prepare them for global competition. So far, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards. Mitchell Johnson is interim executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.
Tennessee’s top Republicans continue to try to fend off the United Auto Workers from unionizing the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. Governor Bill Haslam says the 2,500 employees deserve to take a secret vote on it. The UAW says a majority of workers have signed union cards that should be recognized as a binding vote. Haslam – who has been trying to keep the union out of Tennessee plants – disagrees. “[Is] a majority of having cards checked the same thing as a secret ballot?” Haslam asked reporters. “We believe strongly in the rights of having people to be able to vote privately on anything.”
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he has not made tax incentives for Volkswagen contingent on the German automaker rejecting the United Auto Workers union at its Chattanooga assembly plant. A top Democrat in the state House last week alleged that Haslam was trying to use economic incentives to sway VW against working with the UAW, which said last week that a majority of workers at the plant have signed cards in support of being represented by the union in a German-style works council.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he has not offered specific incentives for Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant to resist efforts by the United Auto Workers to unionize the factory. “We did not,” Haslam told reporters in Nashville. The governor, who opposes unionization at the plant, repeated his objections to a union at VW’s plant. “We have said obviously what y’all do there matters to us and as we continue to have the discussion with you about them hopefully having an SUV line in Chattanooga their decision there obviously would be something we would like to discuss with them,” he said.
Gov. Bill Haslam didn’t sound like he was giving any serious consideration Tuesday to kicking his education department chief to the curb, as some who oppose Tennessee’s new school reform efforts would desire. The governor sent a letter to superintendents across the state asking them to back off their push to have state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman removed. Tennessee is “at a critical point in the implementation of key reforms” with respect to education, Haslam wrote, and he lauded Huffman’s “vision and leadership” in that regard.
A majority of Tennessee school chiefs opted not to join their colleagues in publicly criticizing beleaguered Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, although the participation of Nashville-area leaders was a mixed bag. About 40 percent of Tennessee’s 138 school superintendents attached their names to a letter asking Gov. Bill Haslam to put the kibosh on Huffman and his reform policies, according to the list of names released Wednesday. Letter author and Tullahoma City Schools Superintendent Dan Lawson said he mailed the letter to Haslam on Wednesday but emailed a copy to members of the Tennessee legislature.
Tennessee’s governor isn’t chomping at the bit to follow other Republican-led states that have blocked military benefits for same-sex couples. This week Oklahoma became the fourth state to try refusing benefits for legally married gay couples in the National Guard. For now, the Tennessee Guard would be compelled by the new Pentagon policy to grant benefits to same-sex couples. But no one has applied just yet, according to a spokesman. Governor Bill Haslam says he hasn’t broached the topic with his top general, adding that the issue isn’t “prominent” on his “radar.”
Tourism leaders from around Tennessee are hoping a new strategic plan will attract more visitors to the state and turn it into one of the nation’s top 10 travel destinations. The Tennessean reported that the plan was put together by the Tennessee Tourism Committee, which was formed by Gov. Bill Haslam shortly after he took office in 2011. Some recommendations in the plan include establishing a Tennessee-specific brand for tourism attractions, developing a market plan that focuses on key markets and encourages longer stays, putting together a network of festivals and events that focus on music and targeting the youth sports market.
University enrollment has dropped again at most public colleges in Tennessee. The Board of Regents is hoping the 3.3 percent dip is a temporary downturn, blaming everything from smaller classes leaving high school to more students returning to the workforce. Student populations swelled during the recession. People stayed in school while jobs were harder to come by, the theory went. Middle Tennessee State led the way with more than 26,000 students in 2011. It’s also seen the biggest drop – down 6 percent. This fall’s headcount sank below 24,000 – roughly where it was in 2008.
While the Department of Children’s Services has made progress in how it cares for Tennessee foster children, the agency failed to meet court-ordered standards in key areas last year, according to a report filed in federal court this week by independent monitors. Some department workers still juggle too many children’s cases at one time; not all child records are updated in a timely manner; and the agency isn’t properly overseeing its use of isolation or physical restraints for children in residential or institutional placements, the court-appointed monitors noted.
The Securities Division with the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance is sharing a new resource for investors. It’s making available a guide for individuals new to investing called, “Cutting through the confusion: Where to turn for help with your investment.” Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak points out that investing can be a complicated process and that it’s important for a person not comfortable handling his or her own investments to get help from a financial services professional. She says the guide helps consumers decide what professional is right for their needs.
A large group of House conservatives unveiled legislation Wednesday providing expanded tax breaks for consumers who purchase their own insurance and increasing the government funding for high-risk pools, the Republicans’ first comprehensive alternative to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Under the proposal by the Republican Study Committee, individuals who purchase coverage approved for sale in their state could claim a deduction of $7,500 against their income and payroll taxes, regardless of the cost of the insurance. Families could deduct $20,000.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe advocated his newly-introduced Republican legislative alternative to ObamaCare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, on Wednesday. Roe, R-Tenn., chaired a Republican Study Committee (RSC) Health Care Working Group to write and unveil the “American Health Care Reform Act,” a bill to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law. But Roe’s legislation would appear to be headed toward gridlock since it is opposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and would face a veto from Obama even if passed by the GOP-controlled House.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander says a decision by the Department of the Interior means that Tennessee fish hatcheries will remain open. Alexander said in a release Wednesday that the nearly 900,000 Tennesseans who buy fishing licenses depend on the hatcheries to replace trout destroyed by federal locks and dams. The state’s fish hatcheries are located in Erwin and Dale Hollow. Fishing advocates had feared that a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report expected to be delivered next month would recommend the closure of hatcheries.
Erwin’s federal fish hatchery will not close next month as some had feared, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander announced today in a news release. Alexander said the U.S. Department of Interior decided it would not close any national fish hatcheries around the country in the next month as feared – including at Dale Hollow and Erwin in Tennessee – and that it would work on a long-term solution to keeping them open. “I appreciate Interior Secretary Jewell heeding the concerns of Tennesseans and others around the country who depend upon these hatcheries to replace trout that are destroyed by federal locks and dams,” Alexander said.
City officials joined with TVA representatives and others this week to symbolically throw the switch on a new solar farm behind the city’s water treatment plant on Highway 58 South. That 200-panel farm “is another step into the future for the city of Kingston,” Mayor Troy Beets said Tuesday. Combined with an 800-panel facility on nearby James Ferry Road targeted for an early 2014 startup, the solar farms will produce enough power to run both the water plant and a next-door city recreational complex. The solar power will flow into TVA’s grid. TVA will then reimburse the city and Energy Source Partners LLC of Nashville, which will split the revenue.
A Volkswagen official said Wednesday that it may take months to hammer out an agreement over a works council labor board at the Chattanooga factory, and talks with the United Auto Workers likely could extend to 2014. Sebastian Patta, the plant’s vice president of human resources, told VW workers during an “all-team meeting” that talks on the issue have just started. He said VW must settle complex legal issues before setting up a works council. Reuters first reported Patta’s remarks, and a VW official confirmed them.
Shelby County government leaders hope the public school district will take over the county’s Head Start program, an idea school officials discussed this week. However, if a viable applicant to operate the early-education program does not come forward, Shelby County will reapply to the federal government to continue overseeing the program, county Mayor Mark Luttrell said Wednesday. During a meeting Wednesday of the Shelby County Commission’s community services committee, Luttrell spoke to a packed house of Head Start employees and parents, assuring them that the intent was not to eliminate, but to expand Head Start.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell made it formal Wednesday, Sept. 18, before Shelby County Commissioners. He wants the county out of the Head Start business. And he as well as most of the commissioners he talked with during Wednesday committee sessions want Shelby County Schools to take it over. “I’ve always been concerned about our inability to cover the number of children that really need Head Start,” Luttrell said. “We are now serving roughly 3,200 children with $23 million. We’re barely scratching the surface as far as the need in this area.”
Superintendent Jim McIntyre has been making the rounds of local media heralding the accomplishments of Knox County Schools. His talking points include a table of student achievement scores that proclaims, “Predominantly very good news.” But my own reading of this past year’s performance measures concludes that the bad news outweighs the good. Consider: • Reading proficiency, as measured by the state’s TCAP exam for grades three through eight, dipped to 56.8 percent of students from 57 percent the previous year. While TCAP math proficiency rose to 53.9 percent from 52.1 percent, it also failed to meet the three percentage point gain targeted by the state’s Annual Measurable Objectives (although it qualified for a “safe harbor”).