This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Starting with the class of 2015, all high school graduates in Tennessee will be eligible for two years of free tuition at one of the state’s community colleges or college of applied technology (TCAT), if a plan announced earlier this week by Gov. Bill Haslam is adopted. Haslam announced the proposal, dubbed the Tennessee Promise, during his annual State of the State address in Nashville on Monday. “Through the Tennessee Promise, we are fighting the rising cost of higher education and we are raising our expectations as a state,” Haslam said. “We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in the state of Tennessee. “This is a bold promise,” the governor added.
Earlier this week, Gov. Bill Haslam announced a plan to make two years of community college and technical school free for all students with high school diplomas or equivalency degrees. The plan, announced during his State of the State address Monday, is so radical yet commonsense that I have to applaud the governor. For years, public discourse has revolved around the need for a better-educated workforce in America in general and Tennessee in particular.
Tennessee may become the first U.S. state to guarantee two free years of community college or vocational training for high school graduates — regardless of students’ academic merit or financial need. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the proposed initiative. Interview Highlights: Gov. Bill Haslam On why many Tennesseans aren’t going to college “It’s our estimate that about 10 years from now, 55 percent of the jobs that will exist in Tennessee will require a certificate or a degree beyond high school. Unfortunately, right now, that number is closer to 32 percent. So what we want to do is take one of the most significant barriers out of post-secondary attainment — that would be cost — and take that out of the equation.”
Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday he expects about 25,000 new students to enter the state’s community colleges should his plan to make it free for recent high school graduates pass the Legislature. He also acknowledged “valid” concerns from critics and skeptics, including how the program would affect enrollment at four-year schools and whether it’s wise to pull funds out of lottery reserves to fund the program But Haslam insisted his “Tennessee Promise” plan will make a broad enough impact that the state and its schools should find a way to navigate growing pains that will come along with implementing it.
Gov. Bill Haslam promoted his new plan to provide free community college to all high school seniors during his visit to Knoxville Friday. Haslam said at the annual Knoxville Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast that education is key to bringing new employers to Tennessee. This push is part of Haslam’s “Drive for 55” initiative, which is an effort to raise the proportion of Tennesseans with a college degree or advanced certificate to 55 percent by 2025 from a current level of 32 percent. Haslam proposed free community college during his State of the State Address Monday.
Gov. Bill Haslam was in Knoxville Friday morning for the annual Governor’s Breakfast and highlighted educational investments in his budget proposal. “So many families never dream that school beyond high school is for them,” Haslam told a packed room of local and state leaders at the Knoxville Convention Center. Haslam discussed his proposal to offer free community college or tech school situation for the first two years to high school graduates. He introduced the plan called the “Tennessee Promise” during his State of the State address Monday.
During his fourth annual State of the State address before the General Assembly Feb. 3, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam introduced the “Tennessee Promise.” The historic proposal commits to providing on a continuing basis two years of community college or a college of applied technology (TCAT) absolutely free of tuition and fees to graduating high school seniors. “Through the Tennessee Promise, we are fighting the rising cost of higher education, and we are raising our expectations as a state,” Haslam said.
Erika Adams was at home last week when her cell phone rang. She works at Northeast State Community College and was off work due to the winter weather. Adams didn’t recognize the number, which had a Nashville area code. She works with people in state government and figured the call was work-related. She picked up the phone and got an enormous surprise. The call was from an aide to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. “She told me who she was and that she was calling from the governor’s office and that I was being invited to attend the state address and sit on the General Assembly floor,” Adams said. Her mind started to race.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has announced the appointment of Randy Boyd of Knoxville to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). For the past year, Boyd has served as a full-time, unpaid special advisor to the governor for higher education, focusing on the “Drive to 55” initiative to bring the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or certifications to 55 percent by the year 2025. Boyd played a key role in developing the “Tennessee Promise,” the governor’s proposal to provide two years of community college or a college of applied technology (TCAT) absolutely free of tuition and fees to graduating high school seniors.
Fewer students attend community college in Tennessee today than they have in six years, but a plan put forth by Gov. Bill Haslam would flip that trend, raising questions about cost, readiness and the impact on the state’s four-year universities. Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise,” his proposal for Tennessee to become the only state to offer free tuition at community colleges and technical schools, is expected to generate more than 25,000 yearly applicants, about half of whom would probably enroll in one of the state’s 13 community colleges covering 65 campuses.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s plan to make community college free to high school grads received instant national praise this week. One education leader calls it the best idea to boost college-going rates in a generation. But concerns are beginning to be raised. If community college becomes free for all, and the first few years at a public university get a little more expensive, might that funnel lower-income students to two-year schools? “I’m afraid we might make a two-tier system,” says professor Catherine Leisek, member of the National Council for Higher Education.
Tennessee’s private universities are saying “not so fast” to Governor Haslam’s plan to make community college free. They contend the proposal essentially makes it harder for students with less money to choose the school that’s right for them. Claude Pressnell is President of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, which includes schools like Watkins College and Vanderbilt University. He says about 40% of the students at those schools qualify for a federal Pell Grant. In other words, they come from the same economic background as the usual community college student.
Advocates for Tennesseans with disabilities offered muted praise for Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed budget increases at the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. The governor’s budget proposal calls for spending an additional $7.3 million for new services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Some $2.5 million in additional funds would allow about 100 people with intellectual disabilities — defined by an IQ of 70 or less — to receive services. There are about 7,100 people on a waiting list. Some have been on the list since 1994.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday expressed concern that if a labor union organizes Volkswagen’s assembly plant in Chattanooga, the automaker may be less likely to expand its presence in the state. The governor was the keynote speaker at a breakfast sponsored by the Knoxville Chamber, where he outlined his priorities for the upcoming legislative session. While his remarks focused largely on education, the Volkswagen issue was raised during a Q-and-A session. Haslam said the German automaker is considering Chattanooga and Mexico as sites to build a new SUV, and that Tennessee officials have been in intense negotiations in an effort to win that plant.
The state-led initiative promoting start-ups and technology commercialization has secured a grant from the foundation arm of one of the world’s largest private-equity firms. Launch Tennessee is getting $100,000 from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, which was created when the firm went public in 2007. The foundation is cutting checks worth a total of $1.6 million to 17 organizations picked by some of its employees from more than 500 submissions.
Two agencies have worked to make state identification cards more easily available to children in state custody and foster children making the transition into adulthood. This week, the Department of Safety began providing IDs free to children in custody and will simplify the form used. “The state ID is something that is needed so youth can do a lot of basic things, like get a job, receive public benefits, go to college, rent an apartment and fly,” said Mike Leach, director of independent living for the Department of Children’s Services.
They may not have a name in mind yet for Austin Peay State University’s 10th president, but the 21 members of the new APSU Presidential Search Advisory Committee already seem to agree on one point: Finding a successor to match the stature and broad-based popularity of the exiting Tim Hall is going to be no easy task. Public forum The Tennessee Board of Regents announced Friday that the Search Advisory Committee members for a new president of Austin Peay have been selected and will meet for the first time on Monday, Feb. 17, following a public forum on the APSU campus about the search process.
Motorists in East Memphis will endure further inconveniences beginning this weekend as state transportation officials shut down an eastbound lane of Summer Avenue to accommodate work to renovate the Interstate 40-240 interchange. The eastbound auxiliary lane of Summer beneath the I-240 bridges will be closed for about three months, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The shutdown is scheduled to begin 6:30 a.m. Saturday, weather permitting. The closure will allow for crews to widen the bridge and improve the Summer interchange. The work is part of a $109 million project to complete the renovation of the I-40-240 junction — one of the most heavily traveled areas in metropolitan Memphis.
On July 4, 2012, Noah Dean Winstead, 10, and Nate Lynam, 11, were swimming in Cherokee Lake when they lost their lives to electric shock drowning. Today, their names are on a proposed marina safety law for Tennessee. Supporters of the Noah Dean and Nate Act say it will help prevent future tragedies of the type that claimed the boys’ lives. A similar proposal is pending in Kentucky. And in West Virginia last year the Michael Cunningham Act, also named for an electric shock drowning victim, was signed into law after unanimous approval of the Legislature. Wendy Larimer, legislative coordinator for the Association of Marina Industries, said West Virginia is the only state her organization is aware of that has such a law on the books.
State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, says that his top priority for the 2014 session is to ensure that the state Legislature takes actions that bolster the state’s prosperity. But he emphasized in a meeting with The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board Friday that his role also requires him to give attention to what may seem to Memphis and Shelby County as arcane interests pushed by other communities. The legislative session will begin to gain speed next week, with Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget proposal now delivered and given to Norris to shepherd through the legislative process.
State Sen. Brian Kelsey has filed a bill that would shield individuals, businesses and other entities from lawsuits or other sanctions for refusing services and goods to same-sex couples “if doing so would violate (their) sincerely held religious beliefs.” Kelsey, R-Germantown, calls Senate Bill 2566 the “Religious Freedom Act” and says it “will protect Tennesseans from being dragged into court for their sincerely held religious beliefs regarding marriage” ceremonies that violate those beliefs. Jonathan Cole, chair and president of the Tennessee Equality Project, called it a “discriminatory bill.”
Taxpayers could face tax increases or city officials might have to cut their budgets by 6 percent to fund Knoxville’s 2014-15 fiscal year. Mayor Madeline Rogero said she has not made up her mind what she will recommend and won’t announce her decision until budget talks later this year. Rogero talked about the tough choices facing city government with the City Council on Friday at the Knoxville Convention Center after her deputy mayors announced $3.9 million in planned infrastructure spending using a $10.4 million surplus. Jim York, city finance director, told the City Council that revenues, including real estate property and sales taxes, are staying flat while recurring expenses, such as pension and health care costs, are increasing.
House Speaker John Boehner tried to put the blame squarely on President Barack Obama when he backed off of pushing for immigration reform this year, arguing Republicans don’t trust the administration to enforce the nation’s laws. What Boehner didn’t say is that broad immigration reform has yet to be embraced by many conservatives in his own party, including those from East Tennessee. “Before we enter into any serious talks about immigration reform, first and foremost, we have got to secure our border,” said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah. “We have continually failed to do that.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office announced Friday that the U.S. Department of the Interior has approved final funding for a $4.3 million facility to store the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s extensive collection of historic artifacts. Of the overall $4.3 million price tag, $2.3 million is coming from donations, including Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Association. The 13,000-square-foot building in Townsend will preserve some 422,000 historic records and pre-park artifacts including oral histories, farm tools, clothing, and old photographs.
To critics of the Affordable Care Act, Emilie Lamb must seem like a godsend. A Lawrenceburg accountant who suffers from the autoimmune disease lupus, she twice voted for President Barack Obama, banking on his promise to improve the nation’s health care system. But Lamb has become a poster child for the opposition these days, broadcasting her displeasure with the 2010 law in television ads, radio interviews and opinion columns. Her beef? The health coverage she had received for years — and liked — under a state program known as CoverTN ended last year because it was deemed substandard under the health care law.
State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and other area Republican legislators plan to hold a news conference Monday regarding next week’s unionization vote at the Volkswagen plant. Republicans from Gov. Bill Haslam to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker have come out against the United Auto Workers Union to organize the Chattanooga auto assembly plant. Area legislators are expected to do the same. The news conference will be held at 10 a.m. in the auditorium at the Chattanooga State Office Building at 540 McCallie Ave.
A group of Volkswagen employees against the United Auto Workers efforts to organize the Chattanooga plant said Friday they’re predicting a close vote — and a win — in next week’s secret ballot election. “If we’d had some access, we’d be able to get our message to people” in a better way, said VW worker Mike Jarvis, one of eight plant employees who met with reporters. However, the workers believe their side will still prevail in the three-day election which starts Wednesday at the factory. “I think it will be close, closer than I want it to be,” said Greg Poteet, another employee. “People need to educate themselves.” At the same time, UAW supporters, too, have said they think their side will win when the ballots are all in and counted next Friday.
Nike is in the midst of a $301 million expansion of its Northridge plant in Frayser, a project that means the Beaverton, Ore.-based company will create 250 new jobs and retain 1,600 existing local jobs. But Nike officials said the expansion could have landed in another community if not for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) incentive that is expected to save the company $57.8 million over 15 years. Nike was considering multiple sites for the project at the time and the PILOT incentives offered by Memphis and Shelby County played a key role in the company’s decision to expand locally. “It is our intent to be here in Memphis,” Willie Gregory, Nike director of Community and Business Relations, said at the time.
Schools across Tennessee are increasing their classroom hours even though the effect it has on students is difficult to determine, according to a new report from state government researchers. The report released by the Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability, or OREA, extensively examines several education reforms, including extended learning time, using existing time efficiently and improving the quality of instruction. The schools implementing the new reforms are using varying levels of funding from as many as four federal sources, including Race to the Top funds and School Improvement Grants. But they must adopt several “turnaround strategies,” such as extended learning time, to receive the money.
The Bradley County Board of Education’s executive committee and attorney James Logan will meet with the Cleveland City Council on Monday about the school system’s pursuit of $720,000 in disputed liquor tax revenues. The dispute is whether the city owes the money under state law directing half of liquor tax proceeds to county schools, or whether the city can keep the money for its own independent school system. On Thursday, the school board voted 6-0 to ask Cleveland to apply that sum toward payments Bradley County Schools are making to the city in a $1.4 million sales tax revenue settlement.
There has to be a better and simpler way to play the incentives game when it comes to economic development. If no one in the highest positions of authority really prefers the current arsenal of economic development incentives, why don’t they start to change them? We’ve heard it from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell several times over when they are asked about the local use of payments-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOTs. The statement that they would prefer not to have to offer any incentives is always followed with the necessity for us to be able to compete with the incentives offered by the two states that border us. But it isn’t the much talked about “apples to apples” comparison.
In September, two weeks before the Affordable Care Act was due to launch, President Obama declared that “there’s no serious evidence that the law . . . is holding back economic growth.” As for repealing ObamaCare, he added, “That’s not an agenda for economic growth. You’re not going to meet an economist who says that that’s a number-one priority in terms of boosting growth and jobs in this country—at least not a serious economist.” In a way, Mr. Obama had a point: “Never met him,” says economist Casey Mulligan. If the unfamiliarity is mutual, the confusion is all presidential.