This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman have correctly pressed ahead with Common Core, arguing the higher standards are needed to bring Tennessee’s public school system up to speed with those in other states. It’s a shame that they will have to fight and win an ugly battle in the General Assembly to maintain progress on Common Core and sustain progress on educational improvements for students. But fight they must. On Thursday, the state House voted 82-11 to delay implementation of Common Core for two years.
A Virginia company announced Thursday that it will open a call center in Alcoa and hire 300 employees. K12 Inc. will open a family support campus at the Tyson Centre office building, next to McGhee Tyson Airport. According to a news release, the project includes a capital investment of $2.4 million over five years. K12 is an online learning company that offers courses in seven subjects — language arts/English, history, math, science, music, art and world languages. Its programs are used by more than 2,000 public school districts. The support campus in Alcoa will assist families who are enrolling in K12 courses.
Often, coming out of the temporary retail hiring period of the Christmas shopping season, January unemployment will commonly go on the increase. Not so this year, however, in Clarksville-Montgomery County. State officials said Thursday the jobless picture in the northern middle Tennessee urban hub continued to improve in the first month of 2014. But for other areas of the Clarksville, Tenn.-Ky. Metropolitan Statistical Area – most notably Dover-Stewart County – there was an alarmingly sharp increase in the unemployment rate between December and January.
Davidson County’s unemployment rate fell in January, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced today. Unemployment in Nashville fell to 5.3 percent, down from 5.6 percent in January. Williamson County continued to have the lowest unemployment rate in the state, at 4.5 percent, down from 4.8 percent in December. Unemployment was highest in January in Scott County, at 15.9 percent, up from 15.8 percent the month prior. Across the state, unemployment increased in 49 counties, decreased in 34 and stayed flat in 12.
The unemployment rate in Greater Memphis fell to 8.4 percent in January, compared with 10 percent for the same month a year ago, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development said Thursday. The January rate, a preliminary number, was slightly lower than the 8.5 percent reported for December. The reasons for the improved unemployment rate aren’t all positive. The number of people in the labor force, and therefore looking for work, in January dropped 3 percent to about 591,000, compared to a year ago, according to the just-released figures and labor force data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Part of the intent of the Affordable Care Act was to create what’s called the “no wrong door” rule. That means people are supposed to be able to submit a single, streamlined application for all potential sources of health coverage, applying online, over the phone or in person through both federal and state agencies. But in Tennessee — where in-person Medicaid assistance has been exiled from local offices, where a new state computer system to determine eligibility remains unfinished and where state officials say they struggle to get accurate information from federal officials — some Medicaid applicants say the process is more like an ever-revolving door.
While a top TennCare official outlined changes to remove barriers for people seeking nursing-home care, advocates for the elderly pressed the state Medicaid agency to do more at a legislative hearing Thursday. The discussions centered around complaints about the Choices point system that determines who qualifies for nursing-home coverage — complaints that came to a head in December when the Senate Subcommittee on TennCare and Long-Term Care Oversight held its first hearing. Patti Killingsworth, the agency’s head of long-term care, gave lawmakers a detailed report on how TennCare has responded to those concerns.
The city of Kingsport plans to work with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to see if any improvements can be made to a stretch of Fort Henry Drive where five people have been killed in car crashes in the past six months. Four deadly accidents have taken place basically in front of the Walmart Supercenter on Fort Henry Drive since September, with the latest happening on Saturday when the driver of a 2011 Hyundai Sonata turned into the path of a 1998 Kawasaki motorcycle at the intersection at Atoka Lane. The driver of the motorcycle — 23-year-old Samuel A. Ireson Jr., of Kingsport — was killed in the accident.
A proposal to delay further implementation of the state’s Common Core standards was approved in the House on Thursday, even though Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and other supporters say they are key to Tennessee students’ improvement. The measure was approved 82-11 after being amended to delay implementation of the standards for two years. The testing component for the standards would also be delayed for two years. The governor has joined other supporters who say the standards — developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — are needed to better prepare students for the future.
Tennessee lawmakers voted to delay the Common Core education program for two years, as opponents staged an ambush Thursday morning on the floor of the state House. A coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers used an unrelated bill on American government to force a reckoning on the controversial new teaching standards. Lawmakers voted 82-11 to freeze in place Common Core, which has been rolling out gradually over the past three years, and put off new testing that goes with the program until the 2016-17 school year. “Let’s get it right,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, who led the fight.
In defiance of the governor, the state House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to delay furthering the Common Core educational standards. The surprise move would not change benchmarks already in place in math and language-arts, but it would set back a new standardized test currently set to start next year. Lawmakers have voiced skepticism of Common Core and the corresponding test, known as PARCC, arguing it’s not the state’s own. There were fears of Big Brother and a federal takeover—or at least data-mining. But bills targeting Common Core have struggled to advance in committee. That prompted an end-run on the House floor.
Local educators have mixed feelings on Thursday’s state House vote to delay the implementation of Common Core standards in Tennessee for two years. Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre said the vote was “unfortunate” and “disappointing.” The superintendent said Tennessee has shown great improvement in public education over the past several years. He called Tennessee the fastest growing state in terms of academic achievement. “I would ask the question: ‘Why would we walk away from that?’ ” McIntyre said. “Common Core State Standards are the type of standards that are going to help prepare our students for a successful future. I don’t see what there is to be opposed to in terms of greater rigor and higher expectations in the classroom.”
Tennessee can electrocute inmates if the drugs needed to perform lethal injection are unavailable, state lawyers say in an opinion released Thursday. A bill pending in the state legislature that allows the state to use the electric chair for all executions is constitutional, Attorney General Robert Cooper’s office says. Tennessee currently lets inmates sentenced to death choose electrocution or lethal injection, but Senate Bill 2580 would mandate the electric chair if lethal injection is found unconstitutional or if the drugs cannot be obtained. The attorney general’s office says courts have ruled previously that electrocution violates neither the Tennessee nor United States constitutions.
A bill paving the way for investor-owned companies to run charter schools in Tennessee passed at the end of a nearly six-hour committee meeting Wednesday night. Weary members of the Senate Education panel voted six to three, sending the proposal on to the full Senate. Sen. Reginald Tate (D-Memphis) voted no. “I don’t think that is a proper move for us – whether its at a charter school or not,” Tate said in the nearly-empty hearing room. “I think it opens the door for monopolies.” Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) was the only Republican to vote against for-profit charter schools.
University of Tennessee system President Joe DiPietro says he plans to present university trustees with recommended policy changes similar to those contained in a just-passed Senate resolution condemning the Knoxville campus’ student-led Sex Week program. Senators voted 23-6 on Thursday for Senate Joint Resolution 626, which charges Sex Week organizers want to “thrust a radical agenda on students” during the annual six-day event. Sex Week provides students with a series of programs, games and speakers on sexual health, relationships and issues ranging from date rape to safe sex and gay sex.
Republicans in the state House approved a bill Thursday to ban public schools from sending home to parents any information about “Obamacare.” School systems, especially in poorer areas and at schools with health clinics, occasionally send home material to parents about health assistance available to students and their families. House Bill 2248 says schools “shall not include information on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act … in any school communication, written or electronic, to families of students concerning medical assistance, TennCare or the children’s health insurance program.”
Missy Gaw’s 10-year-old daughter has to have a dose of insulin each time she eats. If no nurse is available to administer the dosage at the girl’s Nashville elementary school, then Gaw or her husband drive there to do so. Gaw’s husband is self-employed, and she works from home, so they have accommodating schedules. But many other parents whose children depend on insulin aren’t so fortunate. “I personally don’t feel much of a hardship, but … there are a lot of other parents who don’t have as flexible jobs as my husband and I do,” Gaw said That’s one of the main reasons 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that add insulin to medications school staff may volunteer to be trained to administer, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Officials at Arnold Air Force Base in southern Tennessee say frigid temperatures are impacting Arnold Engineering Development Complex. The colder-than-normal winter weather is being blamed for 31 water leaks resulting in about $200,000 in damages. While $235,000 isn’t cheap, AEDC Civil Engineer John Laviolette says it could’ve been much worse. Laviolette says AEDC’s power supplier, the Tennessee Valley Authority, faced record power demands in January that required constant partnering with TVA to ensure an adequate power to fully implement a freeze protection program.
Dressed in yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Beyond Coal,” more than a dozen Sierra Club activists and other area residents voiced their concerns Thursday that Tennessee lacks the proper oversight for coal ash. The Tennessee Valley Authority plans a new 54-acre landfill to store coal ash from its Gallatin Fossil Plant, and the activists turned out for a public hearing on the proposal at the Sumner County Administrative Building. Coal ash is the waste from burning coal to produce electricity, and it contains arsenic, selenium, mercury and other pollutants — all harmful to people and wildlife when found in high concentrations.
Citing a decline in demand for soft drinks, PepsiCo has shut down production in its Collierville plant effective immediately. PepsiCo employs about 160 people at the facility, 55 of whom will be laid off. According to a letter from Pepsi sent to Collierville city officials, the workers include 12 salaried and 43 hourly employees. Stan Joyner, mayor of Collierville, said that while Pepsi has been “a great corporate citizen” in Collierville, the company cited increased cost pressure and excess capacity in its decision to shut down production.
PepsiCo Inc. shut down production at its Collierville bottling plant Thursday, idling about 60 workers as the soft drink giant grapples with a long national slump in cola sales. The employees were sent home after they arrived for work Thursday morning at the plant at 150 S. Byhalia Road, said Terry Lovan, president and business manager of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 984. About 100 employees on the distribution and sales side of the facility aren’t affected. PepsiCo’s closure follows the shutdown of facilities announced this year at Abilene, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; Roanoke, Va; and Salem, Ore.
Volkswagen illegally colluded with the United Auto Workers last year to give the union access to VW names and facilities in exchange for the union agreeing to hold down costs if the union won representation, according to a new lawsuit by VW workers opposed to the union. Three employees at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant are claiming in a lawsuit against VW and the UAW that the company tried to help the union get representation at the plant and to limit what the union could bargain over in any subsequent contract talks.
Hamilton County Schools will look to spend an additional $750,000 next year to continue two programs, now that grant funding has lapsed. In the first look at the 2015 budget, central office officials suggested an additional $600,000 to fund middle school coaches and an extra $150,000 for college access advisers at high schools. Those programs previously were funded jointly from the school system and respective grants from the Lyndhurst Foundation and the Public Education Foundation. The added costs to maintain the programs were just one piece of an expected $8 million increase in spending for the next budget year.
It is easy to become bemused about the latest debates on what technologies should be allowed or taught in public school classrooms. In virtually the same breath, we have the state legislature debating a mandate that students learn an ancient “technology,” the ability to write in cursive, and Metro Nashville Public Schools proposing that students and teachers have more freedom to use Twitter, the social media tool of abbreviated communication, and video site YouTube. The idea of requiring students to “master” cursive writing by the third grade was roundly welcomed by Tennessean readers, but it was not a good idea to pass HB 1697/SB 1881, even before it was amended.
Some legislators in the Tennessee General Assembly just can’t bring themselves to stop meddling in local affairs. In the latest case of interloping, a bill is being considered that would block Nashville from proceeding with its plans for a bus rapid transit line without approval from the legislature. And the bill is specifically aimed at Nashville, an apparent violation of state law that prohibits legislation that only affects a particular city or county. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and the mayors of the state’s other three largest cities have rightly united in their opposition to the legislation, which would, among other things, hold local transportation initiatives hostage to political whims of legislators and undermine the collaborative efforts of regional urban growth and transportation experts who plan and prioritize those initiatives.
If there was any doubt that Tennessee’s intransigent opposition to TennCare expansion was motivated by anything other than politics, a vote Wednesday in the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee put that doubt to rest. Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state lawmakers are hurting Tennesseans, costing jobs, denying health care benefits to hundreds of thousands, endangering the financial stability of hospitals and costing the state millions of dollars a day in federal health care dollars by refusing to expand TennCare.