This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A new national report ranks Tennessee among the five best states for screening low-income children for developmental issues. Such screenings can pinpoint problems and reduce future health costs. The report, “The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success,” by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation, zeroes in on the health and educational foundations, as well as state policies, making recommendations for how states can do better. While Tennessee did well on health screenings, the study found that the state has a high number of children under age 8 living in low-income homes. About 54 percent of the state’s 8-year-olds live in low-income households, more than all but 10 other states.
An Oak Grove Elementary teacher has become the only teacher currently serving on the Tennessee State Board of Education. Allison Chancey participated in her first board meeting in Nashville from Oct. 24 -25 after being appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam. “I was recommended. I’m not really sure who recommended me, but they called me for interviews … it was pretty rigorous,” Chancey said. “It was just a thrill to make the final (interview). I never expected to get in.” The board listened to presentations on Thursday and had a voting session Friday. She will be attending state board meetings four times a year.
The next general election may be exactly one year away, but the upcoming battle over the future of abortion in Tennessee is getting started today. Reality television show stars Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, along with their 19 children and three grandchildren, will visit a Madison church tonight to encourage an expected audience of 3,000 to vote in favor of Amendment 1 next Nov. 4. The proposed constitutional amendment would give lawmakers more authority to regulate and restrict abortions. At a separate event tonight, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican from Blountville, will launch the “Yes on 1” campaign with a reception and dinner at the Marriott at Vanderbilt.
A recent Business Week article, citing Tennessee as an example, carried the headline “Republican Civil War Erupts: Business groups vs. tea party.” The premise — reported elsewhere, as well — is that politically involved business organizations at the national level are alarmed over economic ramifications of the October federal government shutdown and are going to try to block the elections of tea party-oriented people and support more business-oriented candidates in Republican primaries. “We are going to get engaged,” Scott Reed, senior political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is quoted as saying. “The need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness.”
Caitlin Nolan of Oak Ridge adopted a lower profile after lobbying the Tennessee Legislature as a high school freshman for anti-bullying legislation. Now that she’s 24 and graduated from the University of Tennessee, she’s out front again. She’s announced last week she will seek the Republican nomination in 2014 for the 33rd District represented by state Rep. John Ragan, a fellow Republican. Ragan is in his second term, having previously defeated Democrat Jim Hackworth twice. Hackworth previously held the seat. The district’s number has a special meaning to Nolan. It was previously in Knox County when her father, Bill Nolan, a lobbyist, represented it as a Democrat. Her mother is Amy Nolan, Greater Knoxville Business Journal editor.
It’s probably not a bad idea for Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann to crank up his 2014 re-election campaign, as he plans to do Thursday with his first major Chattanooga fundraiser. Because the two-term congressman may get another GOP primary challenge from Weston Wamp and need the cash. Wamp, who came in third out of four in last year’s 3rd Congressional District Republican primary, said last week he is seriously weighing having another go at Fleischmann and hopes to “make a decision in the next few weeks.” Wamp, the 26-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, said he and his wife, Shelby, “have been inundated with people asking us to run for Congress.”
Thousands of small businesses around the U.S. are racing to renew their health insurance policies Dec. 1 to beat large premium increases their brokers say will hit them Jan. 1 when the Affordable Care Act takes full effect. Some health insurance brokers also say 2014 may be the last year many of the companies even offer health insurance. Insurance brokers from several states said that 60 percent to 80 percent of their small-business clients — those with 50 employees or fewer — are renewing policies early to skirt the law. Companies with more than 50 employees aren’t allowed to adjust their renewal dates.
The typical community-college student works at least part time while attending classes and often doesn’t complete a degree even after three years, according to the U.S. Education Department. Derrick Johnson is on a different track. The 19-year-old first-year student from a low-income neighborhood of Indianapolis received a scholarship for spending six hours in class each day and another six hours a day studying with classmates. He has pledged not to work during the week. His scholarship, besides tuition and fees, also helps cover expenses, such as some food and transportation costs. Best of all, he expects to earn an associate’s degree by May, within one year.
When Sarah White visits schools, she can tell which children go hungry over the weekends. White, Tennessee’s executive director of school nutrition programs, has seen students waiting, lined up, to get into school on Monday mornings, and not because they can’t wait to get to class. They are eager for breakfast, White said. “I don’t think people realize that hunger exists for children,” White said. “It is heartbreaking, and it’s rewarding to see them eat.” White says that more than half of all public school students statewide — about 62 percent — are eligible for free or reduced-price federal meal programs served in schools.
In one poor school district in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, students take classes in a bus garage, using plastic sheeting to keep the diesel fumes at bay. In another, there is no more money to tutor young immigrants struggling to read. And just south of Denver, a district where one in four kindergartners is homeless has cut 10 staff positions and is bracing for another cull. For decades, schools like these have struggled to keep pace with their bigger and wealthier neighbors. On Tuesday, Colorado will try to address those problems with one of the most ambitious and sweeping education overhauls in the country, asking voters to approve a $1 billion tax increase in exchange for more school funding and an educator’s wish-list of measures.
Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich drew a firestorm of criticism from his own party with his recent decision to bypass the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and accept federal funding to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Other Republican governors like Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania and Bill Haslam of Tennessee are second-guessing their initial refusal to expand Medicaid coverage for their state’s low-income residents, a central plank of Obamacare which was supposed to account for more than half of newly-insured Americans. After years of opposition and legal challenges, these conservative lawmakers now find themselves faced with a stark choice: Accept federal funding to expand Medicaid or resist President Obama’s signature health care law and open up a gap in health coverage that would leave millions without access to coverage. But in Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker has charted a third course, one that rejects additional Medicaid dollars while using the health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act to expand coverage.