This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
This spring, an estimated 1,400 students and their families will hear from Gov. Bill Haslam and Kevin Huffman, state commissioner of education, at Tennessee Tech University’s commencement ceremonies. Huffman will address the morning commencement ceremony, which includes graduates from the Colleges of Agriculture and Human Ecology, Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Interdisciplinary Studies and the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing. The ceremony will begin at 9:30 a.m. Haslam will speak for the graduates of the Colleges of Business and Education at the afternoon ceremony, which begins at 2 p.m.
Over the past three years, teachers at Austin-East Preforming Arts & Sciences Magnet High School have consistently been among the highest paid in the school system. Less than five miles away and in the same district at Maynard Elementary, teachers have been at or near the bottom during that same time period. While there is a gap — from $11,000 in 2012 to just under $8,000 in 2014 — between the two schools, an analysis by the News Sentinel looking at teacher pay on a school-by-school level found it is narrowing. “In light of what’s being expected of teachers today, we don’t pay them enough, especially in a district that is the third largest district in the state,” said Lynne Fugate, the school board’s chairwoman.
Two years ago, Steve Lee sat down with his two oldest sons to talk about the future of the family’s Monroe County dairy. “I had to make a decision — either get bigger or get out,” he said. The men decided to stay in the business, build a new barn and expand their herd from 240 to 350-400 milking cows. “I tried my best to make them mad and leave,” Lee joked. “It’s 7/24, there’s no other way around it. It’s a choice that we all made.” In recent years, dairy farmers across the state have found themselves in a similar dilemma. In 2005, there were 710 dairy farms operating in Tennessee. By 2011 the number had dropped to 450. And both numbers pale in comparison to the more than 1,500 dairies the state boasted in 1995.
If organizers get their way, all three Tri-Cities and other Northeast Tennessee localities will get a chance this November to vote on whether wine should be sold in grocery stores and other retail outlets. Food City President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Smith and others have confirmed petition drives will be assembled statewide to put the wine-in-grocery-stores measure on the November ballot. “We’ve got the perfect place to engage folks at our stores … to have petition drives as time goes on,” Smith said. “I’m sure it will be different from town to town, from Clarksville to Murfreesboro to Memphis to Bristol. … It may not all be the same strategy, but I think it will be what works in different communities.
It’s to be expected that a Republican would loudly oppose a pro-labor ruling in an election year. But U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s response to an initial finding by the National Labor Relations Board that football players at Northwestern University can unionize was remarkably callous about their concerns. “Imagine a university’s basketball players striking before a Sweet Sixteen game demanding shorter practices, bigger dorm rooms, better food and no classes before 11 a.m.,” Alexander was quoted as saying in a press release put out by his office Wednesday night. Alexander — a former University of Tennessee president, U.S. secretary of education and intercollegiate track star — had to know better.
Whether a Tennessee teacher’s bosses consider her good for kids, whether she’s deserving of tenure and — increasingly — a better salary depend heavily on one number. It’s a simple digit on a scale with 1 at the bottom and 5 at the top. But behind it lies a decades-old formula, now coming into vogue on the national education scene, designed to predict how much a student should learn versus how much he did learn. A University of Tennessee statistician designed the formula as a challenge to an article he read that suggested teachers absolutely could not be evaluated by measuring their students’ learning gains. Now, the Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina departments of education and individual school districts in at least 15 other states can do just that.
In Josh Yother’s classroom, students can spend more than 40 minutes on a single math problem. Today’s topic is algebraic expressions, but students are never told outright how to solve the problem. Yother tells his fourth-graders: Johnny feeds his dog for 15 minutes every day. He also walks his dog every day. How much time each day does he spend caring for his dog? Students must write formulas with variables representing the unknowns: how much time Johnny spends walking his dog and how much time in all he spends caring for the dog each day. Some choose subtraction, others addition. One even chooses multiplication. They get 60 seconds to think privately about the problem and start scratching formulas on their mini dry-erase boards.
The head of Tennessee’s largest teachers union contends that the future of public education in Tennessee is at stake amid a steady onslaught from outsiders who want to destroy it. “This march to corporatization — that’s the word that we’ve been trying to use because it does sound a little more ‘evil’ than privatization,” Tennessee Education Association president Gera Summerford said at a Saturday panel discussion at Tennessee State University. She spoke alongside other union supporters, college professors and around a dozen sympathizers in attendance.
The chairman of a key U.S. House committee is asking what action has been taken against Veterans Affairs officials in Nashville and Washington, D.C., who helped an employee abandon his assignment in Tennessee and run up over $100,000 in unauthorized expenses. U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee released a copy of his two-page letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on Friday. In the letter, he asked Shinseki to explain why the employee, Richard Moore, has not been fired rather than put on paid administrative leave. “I am perplexed at how VA has chosen not to terminate his employment,” wrote the Florida Republican.
Tuesday is April Fools’ Day, but what Gov. Bill Haslam will be offering up is no joke. Haslam must make last-minute adjustments to his proposed $32.6 billion 2014-15 state budget, and the adjustments, in this case, will not be good news. State revenue collections are significantly behind 2013-14 budget projections. That shortfall must be made up through adjustment to next year’s budget. Where will the cuts come from? State revenue is running about $260 million behind budget estimates. The state funding board made some adjustments earlier this year, but a shortfall of $125 million to $150 million still is needed.
A bill that evoked considerable sympathy from lawmakers and the general public will not pass this year, and that is probably best — at least for the time being. Lawmakers need to get this one right. The bill in question is called the Victim Life Photo Bill, sponsored by state Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville. The measure would require that a photograph of a murder victim while alive be shown to jurors at the trial of the person or persons accused of the crime. On a voice vote last week, the state House Civil Justice Subcommittee sent the proposed legislation to “summer study.”
The implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) represents the most grand curriculum experiment in educational history with the least amount of evidence to back it up. Even so, Common Core enthusiasts often ridicule the detractors of cram-down curriculum reform and the supporters of local autonomy in education by pointing out that the standards are not federal in origin and are not driven by a national conspiracy to brainwash children with socialist ideas. Although the CCSS are not in themselves federal standards, no one disputes that they never would have been endorsed by 45 states almost overnight, had the Obama administration not incentivized their adoption with bonus points for states hoping to land part of the $4.3 billion in federal Race to the Top grants in 2010.