This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is distinguishing himself as an “education governor,” with an array of programs to enhance learning opportunities for Tennesseans from preschool to college. Last week, Haslam announced his administration’s goal to push Tennessee to become the fastest improving state in the nation when it comes to teacher salaries. Basic fairness dictates that Haslam and the state improve teacher pay. Test data, the everpresent force in modern education policy, shows that Tennessee teachers are stepping up and doing their part to improve student performance.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam joined Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman to announce the administration’s goal of becoming the fastest improving state in the nation when it comes to teacher salaries. “We’re asking our students to be the fastest improving in the nation in education achievement, and the data is showing that we’re making real progress,” Haslam said. “Teachers are the single most important factor in student achievement, and higher accountability for teachers and proven results should be met with better rewards.”
Keep Williamson Beautiful received the $1,000 Public Participation Award for America Recycles Day of Tennessee as part of the TDOT/Keep Tennessee Beautiful (KTnB) 2013 Biennial Conference. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, along with TDOT’s Chief of Staff Lyndsay Botts, Shawn Bible of TDOT’s Environmental Division, and KTnB’s Executive Director Missy Marshall presented the 19 winners with Awards of Excellence plaques and grant checks, honoring the environmental achievements and legacies of people and organizations who work to improve their community’s appearance through public education programs.
August and September were big months for Tennessee’s entrepreneurs. Thanks to the state’s unique business accelerator network, more than 30 startup companies are now graduates after spending the past three months refining their ideas and business plans. While this is a successful feat that is not for the faint of heart, these companies are now faced with “What’s next?” Many young entrepreneurs struggle to answer this question. Some feel unsure of what that next step should be. Granted, they need to continue to refine their business plans and seek investment, but what if we start teaching entrepreneurs to think beyond the present?
Gov. Bill Haslam set a goal Thursday for Tennessee to have the fastest rate of growth in teacher salaries, in the aggregate, by the time he leaves office. “This is a long-term goal, and I think it is one of the most important ones we’ve taken on,” the governor said during a Capitol ceremony attended by dozens of educators in town for the Tennessee Teacher of the Year awards Thursday night. “Teachers are the single most important factor in student achievement, and higher accountability for teachers and proven results should be met with better rewards.” The announcement by the governor and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman comes after three years of massive changes for teachers, including new performance and accountability demands and weakened job protections.
Three Tennessee Republican veterans of mid-1990s congressional confrontations with a Democratic president have differing ideas today about what they meant and what players in Washington’s current showdown should learn from them. U.S. Rep. John “Jimmy” Duncan of Knoxville is the only area veteran of the 1995 and 1996 spending battles who still is serving in Congress. For him, there wasn’t such a big impact when a Republican-controlled House and Senate squared off with then-President Bill Clinton. “Well, last time, even though the government was supposedly shut down for almost a month, most people in my district really didn’t seem to notice that much,” Duncan said.
Already hit by sequestration, federal courts in Nashville are now grappling with the government shutdown in a way that the U.S. public defender says puts the constitutional right to a speedy and fair trial at risk. The Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee has a reserve fund set aside to cover operations during the government shutdown until Oct. 14. If Congress doesn’t pass a budget soon, things could get even worse. The office was forced to furlough staff this year because of the broad-based budget agreement known as sequestration, leading to delays in trials and prosecutions.
The bronze plan on the health insurance marketplace poses more problems for cancer doctors than uninsured patients do. That’s the assessment of Dr. Jeff Patton, chief executive officer of Tennessee Oncology, who said pharmaceutical companies will donate chemotherapy drugs to treat the uninsured, while a bronze plan will cover only 60 percent of the $10,000 monthly cost for chemotherapy. Not many cancer patients have $4,000 a month to spare. “Giving away your time for free is one thing,” Patton said. “Giving away your money for free is a whole different thing.”
WHEN Cynthia Stevenson, the superintendent of Jefferson County, Colo., public schools, heard about a data repository called inBloom, she thought it sounded like a technological fix for one of her bigger headaches. Over the years, the Jeffco school system, as it is known, which lies west of Denver, had invested in a couple of dozen student data systems, many of which were incompatible. In fact, there were so many information systems — for things like contact information, grades and disciplinary data, test scores and curriculum planning for the district’s 86,000 students — that teachers had taken to scribbling the various passwords on sticky notes and posting them, insecurely, around classrooms and teachers’ rooms.
There is no question that public education is the key to Tennessee’s and Tennesseans’ economic futures. So it makes sense for the state to develop the best public education system possible. Part of the equation to accomplish that is to hire the best teachers. To do that, the state’s 137 public school systems must offer competitive teacher pay scales. Gov. Bill Halsam appears to have taken that issue to heart in announcing his commitment to make Tennessee the fastest rising teacher pay state in the nation. But, to paraphrase actor Cuba Gooding Jr. in the movie “Jerry Maguire:” Show us the money! Teacher pay in Tennessee ranks near the bottom compared to other states, so making solid percentage increases, at least in the beginning, should be relatively easy.
Is college worth it? The cover of Time magazine last week pictured three adorable first-graders in caps and gowns, along with the headline: “Class of 2025: How they’ll learn and what they’ll pay.” My younger son is part of the Class of 2025, so the magazine set me to thinking about college. Parents, I believe, have begun to ask the question “Is it worth it?” without irony. In the last couple of months, the presidents of three state university campuses, representing about 63,000 students, have visited the Times Free Press to talk with reporters and editors. One thing is clear: They all know that their schools — the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Middle Tennessee State University — are under a microscope, just like all the state’s institutions of higher learning.
Much of what we’ve been hearing and reading in the past year about Nashville, the “it city,” can quickly become oversimplified, but the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has stepped in to give it focus. Yes, the Nashville area is growing fast, but there is more to the story, and what the chamber’s research center along with the Metropolitan Planning Organization have learned can provide a blueprint for how regional leaders meet the challenges that come with the dynamics of this growth. The chamber and MPO adopted the Vital Signs process pioneered by Community Foundations of Canada, and used recently to chart plans for the city of Toronto.
While some members of Congress gained attention last week by forgoing their government paychecks during the limited government shutdown, it may be worth noting that some Tennessee politicians had previously foregone their government paychecks even with state government still functioning. Or maybe because it is. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, like Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen before him, returns his salary to the state. (There are some complicated factors, both federal IRS rules and state statutes, that combine to make rebating the way to go rather than just refusing to take the money.) This may be seen as the chief executives showing some respect for the spending of the state government they preside over, in collaboration with legislators. In other words, maybe, they trust themselves to spend wisely.
Nashville’s new, state-of-the-art $623 million convention center already is paying economic development dividends for Tennessee’s capital city. A new 21-story, 800-room luxury hotel just opened. Major conventions have been booked. Jobs and millions in rollover tourist and convention dollars will result. In Memphis last week, Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO Kevin Kane appeared before a City Council committee and told them Memphis is losing the struggle to lure large conventions here. He said corporate and nonprofit groups are taking their annual gatherings to Nashville and other cities that have made big investments in their convention center and hotel infrastructure. It was a gloomy assessment from the city’s chief tourism and convention procurer.