This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
In the push to give low-income families increased opportunities and choices to get their children into a good school, we have supported a state-funded school voucher program. But we agree with Gov. Bill Haslam that, initially, a voucher program should be limited until its impact on public schools can be fully analyzed. State Sens. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, have introduced a compromise voucher bill that attempts to address Haslam’s desired for a more limited program. A more expansive voucher bill died in last year’s legislative session after the governor and the bill’s sponsors could not agree on how many students should be eligible for vouchers.
In education, it sometimes takes courage to do what ought to be common sense. That’s a key lesson from several recent national and international assessments of U.S. education. These include the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the nation’s report card; a new version of the NAEP focused on large, urban districts; and the international rankings in the tri-annual PISA test….When Tennessee raised its standards in 2010, the proportion of students rated proficient dropped to 34% in math and 45% in reading. But in a bipartisan act of courage, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman stayed true to the reforms begun under Democrat Phil Bredesen.
A detailed review of the Department of Children’s Services by the state comptroller is expected to be released today, and lawmakers will question department officials about the findings at a hearing immediately afterward. Lawmakers already have gotten advance copies of the comptroller’s audit, but its findings are confidential until state officials formally issue a public report. The audit is expected to review a particularly rocky and controversial period at DCS, the agency charged with investigating reports of child abuse and neglect, running the state’s foster care system and operating juvenile justice programs.
James Cunningham hopes he never needs the yellow dot stuck on his vehicle, but he’s glad to have it just in case. The Tennessee Department of Transportation launched the Yellow DOT Program this month to bring vulnerable drivers’ medical information to first responders as soon as possible. Drivers in the program put a palm-size yellow sticker in the bottom-left portion of their rear window. That alerts responders to possible medical complications during emergencies and directs them to a yellow folder in the vehicle’s glove box containing the driver’s photo, medical history and prescription drug information.
In an effort to enhance the state’s agricultural industry and to increase farmers’ capacity to produce, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture is encouraging producers to take advantage of new continuing education opportunities now offered by the University of Tennessee Extension. “Agricultural leaders recently unveiled a strategic plan to grow and develop our industry over the next decade. “Education and research were recognized as key components for helping us achieve our goals, and these continuing education opportunities will be important for producers to maximize efficiency in their operations and to increase farm profitability,” Agriculture Commission Julius Johnson said.
Used to be, high school was part of the road to college. Now, high school is becoming a merge lane for college in local school systems. Students graduating from Kingsport’s Dobyns-Bennett High School in 2013 earned more than 3,300 college credits prior to graduation, according to a recently released report on credit attainment. And guidance counselors at neighboring Sullivan County high schools said they see the trend of more students earning college credits over recent years. Students in the D-B Class of 2013 earned 3,328 college credits.
Almost seven years after then-Gov. Phil Bredesen included $48 million to replace UTC’s Lupton Library in a late addition to the state budget, and more than four years after the university broke ground on the project, a modernized library is inching toward completion on the UTC campus. University officials learned Thursday that an already prolonged construction process won’t be over until at least December. That dashed hope that the facility would be open for the beginning of the 2014-15 school year. Once finished, though, the library will become a marquee place on campus and a milestone in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s long-term plan to bolster its connection with downtown.
Almost 30 years after Tennessee state government turned oversight of coal mining within its borders to the federal government, Republican state legislators are proposing to reverse a decision made by Lamar Alexander as governor. Apparently by coincidence, there are two new legislative efforts introduced this year to authorize the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to oversee issuance of permits for coal mining and follow-up inspections of operations rather than the federal Office of Surface Mining. One has been initiated by the Tennessee Mining Association, which represents the coal industry in Tennessee.
The state Senate is scheduled to take up a measure on Monday that seeks to change the way Tennessee’s attorney general gains office. Under a proposed constitutional amendment, the attorney general would stand for popular election rather than being appointed by the state Supreme Court. Critics say making the attorney general an elected position would require them to seek heavy campaign contributions and threaten the nonpartisan and independent nature of the office. They also question the need for the resolution when the full chamber voted 22-9 last year in favor of a proposal to have the attorney general appointed by a joint convention of the General Assembly.
On the eve of election season, incumbent constituent surveys are starting to fill mailboxes across Tennessee. In fact, about 45,000 residents in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District were sent an “end of year report and survey” by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., this month. The survey and report give residents a rundown of what the Chattanooga Republican says he’s been focusing on and says it seeks to gauge what constituents want him to do. Fleischmann is seeking renomination for his 3rd District seat. He is being challenged in the GOP primary by Weston Wamp. Whoever wins the primary in August could face Angelia Stinnett, the only Democrat in the race to date.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee says the U.S. Senate is broken. Case in point: a recent bill to extend long-term jobless benefits. The measure cleared a procedural hurdle on Jan. 7, when enough Republicans joined Democrats in moving it closer to a final vote. Now, however, it’s in limbo, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid restricted the number of amendments and set a 60-vote threshold for each one to pass — conditions Republicans rejected. Alexander had planned to offer his own proposal to reform an inefficient federal job training program that provides millions to the Volunteer State each year.
As the 4th Brigade Combat Team stands just months from deactivation as part of an Army-wide realignment, it was appropriate that its most storied unit, Easy Company of “Band of Brothers” fame, was the group to complete its final mission in Afghanistan. The company returned home early Sunday morning with its battalion commander and the colors of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry “White Currahees.” Much of the brigade had returned months earlier, having completed its part of an “Advise and Assist” mission early. Easy Company likewise completed its mission early, but found itself tasked with a new mission to provide security at several forward operating bases in Regional Command East.
Governors across the U.S. are proposing tax cuts, increases in school spending and college-tuition freezes as growing revenue and mounting surpluses have states putting the recession behind them. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are pushing for tax cuts as collections rise, while putting money into job-training and prekindergarten programs, respectively. In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal is proposing the largest increase in K-12 school funding since the recession to mark what he called the end of the “deep freeze,” while Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is calling for a boost in K-12 spending and holding tuition steady at state colleges.
When the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that states could decide for themselves if they would expand Medicaid eligibility, many thought states were left with a yes or no proposition. Simple. Except nothing is ever simple when it comes to either the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid, the federal-state partnership that provides health care to America’s poor. Some states want to expand Medicaid, but in their own way. Lucky for them, there is a process that enables them to do so. Medicaid programs across the states are far from identical. For one, the federal-state dollar matches vary a great deal (from a 73 percent federal to 27 percent state ratio in a poor state like Mississippi in fiscal 2013 to 50-50 for states such as Wyoming, Washington, California and Connecticut).
A strategic partnership forged last year between BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Erlanger Health System is beginning to show fruit, a breakdown of local enrollees through the new health insurance marketplace indicates. A majority of Chattanoogans signing up for BlueCross health coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchanges on HealthCare.gov are opting to be a part of Network E — a new, more limited network in which Erlanger is the only hospital provider, according to figures released by the hospital system and confirmed by BlueCross. More than 3,100 of the new BlueCross enrollees chose that network out of the three plans offered on the exchange.
Tennessee’s congressional delegation is trying to find a little help for hospitals in the state being squeezed by state-level officials who have so far refused to expand Medicaid. All 11 Tennessee members of Congress signed a letter to Marilyn Tavenner, who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, asking for $80 million to help pay for unreimbursed services, according to the Tennessean. That’s a drop in the bucket of the more than $700 million in unreimbursed TennCare services and $970 million in charity care the state’s hospitals provided last year. Still, it is better than nothing, which is what state officials are doing for them.
What would you say if I told you that Tennessee was giving away more than $2 billion in our tax dollars to other states like New York, Ohio, Arizona, California and our neighbors in Kentucky? You’d be outraged, wouldn’t you? That’s exactly what we are doing by not taking our tax dollars back from the federal government to expand our Medicaid program. It is anticipated that more than half of states will expand Medicaid by the middle of 2014. Tennessee should be one of them. If you are sick and without insurance, hospitals are legally required to treat you when you show up in their emergency room, regardless of your ability to pay.