This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The 2013 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called “the nation’s report card,” were released Thursday. NAEP matters because the test is gold-standard; externally administered, monitored and scored; and the only assessment that allows us to measure students across the entire country in an apples-to-apples way. Tennessee had, by far, the most significant gains of any state in the country. In fact, the gains were larger than any other state has achieved in the 10 years that NAEP has been administered across all states.
Washington these days is the symbol of governmental failure, rocked by a shutdown, legislative paralysis and the disastrous debut of President Obama’s health care program. Public opinion of Mr. Obama and members of Congress is on a steady decline….The difference is reflected in polling. In the latest CBS News poll, 85 percent of respondents expressed disapproval of the performance of Congress, and 49 percent expressed disapproval of Mr. Obama. By contrast, less than a third of respondents in a variety of state polls said they disapproved of the performance of governors like Mr. Christie; Jerry Brown of California, a Democrat; Bill Haslam of Tennessee, a Republican; and Mike Beebe of Arkansas, a Democrat.
North Side High School Principal Ricky Catlett keeps an ever-growing binder on his desk that contains test scores, teacher evaluation scores and action plans. He’s working to become a strong academic leader for his school of 990 students and nearly 80 teachers. “Principals can’t just focus on being the school’s disciplinarian. They must have a total focus and broaden their expertise because if they don’t, they’ll be replaced,” Catlett said. “Principals have to be experts on (student performance) data. We have to know where to find it, how to use it to benefit our students. These are high stakes, not just for teachers, but for the principals as well.”
The chief justice of the state Supreme Court and the presiding judge of the state Court of Appeals are dissenting from an evaluation commission’s recommendation against keeping one of their appellate court colleagues on the bench. Chief Justice Gary Wade of Sevierville said in an interview that he believes all three judges receiving negative recommendations from the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission deserve new terms. Charles D. Susano Jr. of Knoxville, presiding judge of the Court of Appeals, limited his call for reconsideration of the preliminary rejections to Court Court of Appeals Judge Andy Bennett, who he has worked with extensively.
State lawmakers filed a bill on Friday that would offer in-state tuition to all veterans attending public colleges and universities in Tennessee. The legislation, titled the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act, would allow veterans moving to Tennessee and discharged within a two-year period to enroll at schools as in-state students without having to wait to estabish official residency. The bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and House Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, would allow create a “VETS campus” designation for Tennessee schools who focus on enrolling veterans there.
Manufacturers use hemp in plastics, insulation and even a little paper. Health food lovers eat hemp seeds by the handful for the protein and omega-3 fats. Hemp clothes, shoes and handbags sell for top dollar, prized for durability. But while hemp fields abound in Canada and Europe, only a few acres of the plant are grown in the U.S. Authorities outlawed the crop a half-century ago because of its affiliation with its high-inducing cousin marijuana, even though the industrial variety contains only trace amounts of the psychoactive chemical THC. Ten states, including Kentucky, have removed barriers to hemp production, and state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Fields, wants to bring it back to Tennessee.
No matter how sick the political system gets in Washington, voters in Tennessee probably won’t prescribe much new medicine next year. A federal government shutdown that didn’t achieve its goal and a botched health care reform rollout have made Republicans and Democrats look bad in the past month. But voters probably won’t make significant changes to the Volunteer State’s political lineup in November 2014, political analysts and players from both parties say. “I have the only district in Tennessee that could go either way,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Nashville Democrat who is serving his sixth term.
Facing charges from his primary opponents that he’s not conservative enough to represent the Republican Party in the 2014 midterm elections, Sen. Lamar Alexander said he’s not going to try an end-run to the right to avoid an upset from a Tea Party movement challenger. “What I’ve tried to do is what I said I would do when I ran,” Alexander said Friday during a brief interview with the Johnson City Press’ editorial board before a jobs talk at Johnson City’s Carnegie Hotel. “The people of East Tennessee know me pretty well, so if I tried to be something different this year, they wouldn’t think much of me. I’ve got conservative principles and an independent attitude, and I spend my time trying to get results in Washington.”
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who makes no secret of disliking some of the legislative tactics of the GOP’s tea party wing, finds himself disliked by groups that aggressively fund tea party candidates. But while unfavorably viewing the two-term Tennessee incumbent, organizations that strongly supported tea party candidates such as Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas in recent elections have yet to decide about helping state Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas. Carr remains Alexander’s only announced opponent in the 2014 Republican primary.
Despite the influx of German and Japanese investment in Tennessee over the past two decades, nearly a third of Chattanooga’s international trade is much closer to home. Aided by the duty-free North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada and Mexico remain the biggest trading partners for many U.S. companies. “When people think of new export markets in recent years they’ve almost been overly thrilled about China, India, Brazil and other emerging markets and they’ve almost forgot that there are still a ton of opportunities here in our continent,” said Joseph Parilla, research analyst at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.
The Knox County Board of Education last week directed Superintendent Jim McIntyre to arrange for a pair of teachers-only input sessions for developing the system’s strategic plan. Many teachers did not wait. Dressed in red as a show of solidarity, they packed the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building at Wednesday’s school board meeting and aired their grievances, particularly about the teacher evaluation system. McIntyre and the school system have to acknowledge the morale problem and take steps to address the teachers’ concerns, though without abandoning the commitment to accountability.
Perhaps the clearest policy clash developing between the Republican right and the Republican left in advance of the 2014 session of the Republican supermajority state Legislature is over Common Core State Standards for K-12 education, though there is some competition for that distinction. Last session, the big GOP policy split was over school vouchers, though maybe the lesser splitting matter of guns in parking lots got as much or more public attention. The voucher clash ended in a stalemate between the Republicans wanting a big, sweeping voucher program and the Republicans wanting some small, limited, experimental approach.
I’m beginning to wonder what, if anything, state Sen. Brian Kelsey really learned during his visit earlier this year to Azerbaijan and Turkey. Kelsey, along with other Tennessee legislators and Department of Homeland Security officials, took the trip, he said, to acquire lessons in security. When he returned, he wrote a guest column for this newspaper in which he said he also learned a thing or two about the value of meaningful protests. In Istanbul, Kelsey wrote, “the lesson I learned is that protesters have complex motives, and democratic governments should listen to protesters’ grievances — whether in Turkey or in Tennessee.”
Note: The news-clips will resume on Tuesday, November 12.