December 15 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Gov. Haslam calls for education evangelism in Oak Ridge speech (N-S/Marcum)

Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday urged members of the East Tennessee Economic Council to become “evangelists” for helping Tennessee close the education gap between its workforce and those in the rest of the country. ETEC, which works to encourage new use of the federal government’s advanced technologies and facilities in Oak Ridge, is an important part of this effort, Haslam told members during their annual meeting at the Double Tree Hotel in Oak Ridge. “The STEM disciplines that so many of you are a part of in this room, that’s not over-hyped. That’s where the demand is,” he said, referring to science, technology, engineering and math.

Memphis is epicenter of bold experiment in education (Tennessean/Garrison)

Across the street from a boarded-up grocery and a stretch of railroad tracks is Hanley Elementary, where generations from the gritty Memphis neighborhood of Orange Mound have gone to school. But this year, unlike the previous, a red carpet — literally — greeted children on the first day of class. Above the school’s front door these days is a sign that reads “Aspire.” Inside the 1950s building, hallways have a fresh coat of purple and gold paint. Classrooms are decked with new computers. And banners of some of the nation’s best universities hang from the ceiling.

Nashville teachers the victims in ID theft case (Tennessean/Wilson)

The personal information of about 6,300 Metro Schools teachers may have been stolen by a former Tennessee Department of Treasury employee, though state officials believe those details were not sent elsewhere. The former employee, 24-year-old Steven Hunter, has been accused of sending a file containing the Social Security numbers, full names, home addresses and dates of birth from a work email to a personal email address before resigning his post on Thursday. The next day, state officials said they learned about the incident and called for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to help. TBI officials raided Hunter’s Hermitage home on Friday night and confiscated his personal computer and other electronic devices from the property.

Poll may help change Ron Ramsey’s mind (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he may reconsider his opposition to requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine-based cold and flu medicines to combat illegal methamphetamine production. The Blountville Republican last week said results of a Vanderbilt University poll showing 65 percent of 860 registered voters would accept prescriptions to fight meth production were “amazing to me.” “That makes me feel better, because I have evolved on this issue, from thinking, ‘Why should 99 percent of the people be punished for the 1 percent that abuse it?'” Ramsey said. At the same time, he said, the meth problem across Tennessee is “unbelievable.”

TN GOP vote on budget deal blasted by conservative groups (Tennessean/Barton)

Five Republican U.S. House members from Tennessee defied their party’s tea party wing as well as many conservative groups and think tanks in voting for a budget deal designed to avert another government shutdown. Republican Reps. Diane Black of Gallatin, Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump, Chuck Fleischmann of Ooltewah and Phil Roe of Johnson City were among the 332 representatives Thursday night who voted yes. Republican Reps. Scott DesJarlais of Jasper and John Duncan Jr. of Knoxville were among the 94 who voted no.

Enrollment Errors Cut, Officials Say; Fixes Are Overstated, Insurers Report (NYT)

The Obama administration said Saturday that it had reduced the error rate in enrollment data sent to insurance companies under the new health care law, even as insurers said that the government’s records were still riddled with mistakes. The quality of the data is important; it could affect the ability of people to get medical care and prescription drugs when they go to doctors’ offices and pharmacies starting next month. More than 137,000 people selected health plans in the federal insurance marketplace in October and November, and administration officials say more than 100,000 signed up in the first week of this month.

Tragedy, concerns lead district to respond to school security (N-S/McCoy)

School security. Those two words loomed over Knox County, like many school systems, beginning Dec. 14, 2012, when a 20-year-old gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 20 students and six adults, including the principal. “Sandy Hook again was one of those just shocking moments, I think, in the American experience where the unthinkable happened — there was an attack in a public school, at an elementary school, an attack on small children,” said Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre. “As a parent, as an educator, I think it was certainly something that I felt deeply we needed to consider and respond to.” School board chairwoman Lynn Fugate agreed.

OPINION 

Guest columnist: Why Common Core is good for students (News-Sentinel)

Let’s take a deep breath. That’s right — breathe in, breathe out. I have been reading a lot of hype and misinformation about Common Core State Standards lately, and I thought I’d offer a reduced-stress alternate view on it. First off, Common Core is not a curriculum. Therefore, if someone writes, “The Common Core curriculum ” you can stop right there. They are not correct, so anything following those words will be suspect. Common Core is exactly what it says: standards. So how do standards differ from curricula? Standards set expectations. They don’t say what materials to use or exactly what happens every day in the classroom. Those are local decisions.

Editorial: Expand Medicaid, close fiscal, moral gaps (Tennessean)

Politics shape flimsy argument against TN accepting billions for health coverage Beginning Jan. 1, the state of Tennessee could begin to get back billions of dollars that its residents pay to the federal government in the form of income, corporate, excise and other taxes. Or we can sit by and watch while other states enjoy the benefits. It should be an easy choice for the governor of this state to say, “Yes, we will accept our share of this money.” Instead, it is made complicated because of political pride and a refusal to accept reality. The political pride stems from the fact that the program of Medicaid expansion that would bring this money back to Tennessee is a part of the Affordable Care Act, which majority leaders of Tennessee government have opposed at every turn.

Tom Humphrey: Political theater favored tool of Tennessee politicians (N-S)

Lamar Alexander was accused of engaging in “manufactured political theater” last week by his Republican challenger, state Rep. Joe Carr — a fairly reasonable interpretation of recent Alexander antics. Of course, in doing so Carr was trying to manufacture a bit of political theater for himself in hopes of attracting some attention — something he has been sorely lacking in his efforts as an unknown, underfunded underdog. He just doesn’t know how to go about it as well as Alexander, an experienced professional actor on the political stage with a whole team of well-paid scriptwriters. One of the major objectives of political theater is getting attention from the audience — hopefully favorable, though most anything is better than nothing for a newcomer.