This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Haslam touts Tennessee’s innovative education policies (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)
Gov. Bill Haslam got the chance to tout his signature community college scholarship program and the state’s other innovative education policies Monday to a national audience of about 500 journalists, scholars and thought leaders. “Tennessee hasn’t traditionally been known as a hotbed of education reform,” Haslam quipped in his opening remarks. “But recently several things have changed there and usually when that’s happened it’s usually not one thing, usually it’s multiple things that’s caused us to be where we are.”
Haslam hopes to fund higher ed. so institutions can be rewarded (AP/Johnson)
Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that he regrets not being able to adequately fund higher education so that all institutions that improve in some important ways can be rewarded financially. About four years ago, Tennessee started funding its colleges and universities based on outcomes like graduation rates and credit completions instead of enrollment. However, the state recently opted not to add any new funding to higher education for the next budget cycle because of a revenue shortfall of more than $270 million. Haslam also didn’t give pay increases to teachers and state employees.
Ed commissioner, gov. say funds needed for more education reforms (TFP/Hardy)
Success isn’t cheap. And if Tennessee wants to keep up with the recent pace of educational reform — and improvement — Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said it’s going to take a rethinking of funding. Much of the state’s ambitious reform agenda was tied to the $500 million federal Race to the Top grant, which was awarded to Tennessee in 2010. It paved the way for tougher teacher evaluations and a special statewide school district to target habitually underperforming schools, among a multitude of other efforts.
Education commissioner: Building bridge key to student success (N-S/Boehnke)
State officials will spend the coming months building a bridge around the Tennessee Promise program and helping students navigate the murky period between high school and college, Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman said Monday. “Right now kids leave high school and they may or may not go to postsecondary (schools) and there’s not a deliberate bridge between the two,” Huffman said, adding that the state’s new community college scholarship program could change that. The commissioner spoke to reporters during the Education Writers Association national seminar at Vanderbilt University Monday, where Tennessee’s education policy has had a prominent platform.
Early results show teacher retention pay worth investment in Tenn. (CA/Roberts)
The retention bonus Tennessee offered last year to keep strong teachers in low-performing schools likely was a factor for more than 70 teachers who signed on for another year in inner-city schools, most of them in Memphis. Of the 365 teachers that took the state up on the offer, 20 percent of them are more likely to have stayed compared to other high-performers not eligible for the incentive, according to a study by the Tennessee Consortium, an independent research body at Vanderbilt University. “What does it mean that a better teacher is being retained? The average teacher was in the 89th percentile on the distribution in the state,” said Matt Springer, researcher.
State may trade Downtown building for 400 parking spots (Memphis Biz Journal)
What would you take for a 12-story office building in Downtown Memphis that has been labeled “functionally obsolete”? The state, which is moving 596 employees from the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building on Civic Center Plaza, will take 400 parking spaces at 280 Peabody Place garage for 15 years, according to the Commercial Appeal. The Tennessee Building Commission is currently negotiating the deal with the City of Memphis, the report said. The 194,900-square-foot building has a value of up to $2.2 million and deferred maintenance costs of $18.4 million.
State, Memphis negotiating for exchange of Hill Building for parking (CA/Locker)
The state wants to give its Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building on Civic Center Plaza Downtown to the city of Memphis in exchange for 400 parking spaces at Peabody Place. The state is leaving the 12-story Hill Building, which opened in 1968 at the corner of Poplar and North Main, and moving seven blocks south into newly leased space at One Commerce Square formerly occupied by Pinnacle Airlines. The move of 596 state employees who work for nine different state agencies is scheduled to start June 1. For months after the state announced in 2012 that it was vacating the Hill Building, state officials said they weren’t sure what they would do with the modern-looking concrete and glass mid-rise that has occasionally housed the Memphis office of governors.
TN Receives $140,000 For Mine Safety Training (WTVC-TV Chattanooga)
The U.S. Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) awarded the Tennessee Mine Safety Unit a grant of $140,000. The funds will be used to support health and safety training courses and programs designed to reduce mining accidents, injuries, and illnesses, Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips announced. ‘Mining is considered one of the most dangerous jobs and too often turns fatal, as we saw in the coal mining accident in West Virginia just last week,’ said Phillips. ‘
Rutherford Co. rape case highlights backlog in DNA analysis (WSMV-TV Nashville)
A Smyrna man accused of a rape may have only been caught because of a software upgrade. Joseph Shelton pleaded not guilty Monday, but his case has revealed a lot about the backlog of rape cases in Tennessee. Shelton is accused of using a syringe to drug a woman and rape her outside a Murfreesboro restaurant in 2011. The 40-year-old concrete finisher has a long record of charges, including domestic assault and especially aggravated kidnapping as well as driving and probation infractions. He is so accustomed to court appearances he asked for his favorite public defender Monday.
New provost named at University of Memphis’ Lambuth Campus (NBJ)
Niles Reddick has been named vice provost for the University of Memphis’ Lambuth Campus, effective July 1. Reddick will replace Dan Lattimore, who has been led the Lambuth Campus since Aug. 2011, when it was taken over by the University of Memphis. Lattimore will return to his role as dean of the University College at the University of Memphis. “Dr. Lattimore was instrumental in getting this campus open with very short notice and guiding its early success,” David Rudd, president of the University of Memphis, said. “We are grateful for his tireless service over the last three years.”
TN law enforcement agencies are cracking down on people not buckling up (WATE)
Law enforcement officials are cracking down on drivers and their passengers not buckling up. Monday through June 1, the Tennessee Highway Patrol is taking part in the “Click It or Ticket” campaign. If you fail to buckle up or do so improperly, you may get a ticket. THP says when you buckle up, you reduce your change of death or serious injury in a crash by 80 percent, but you must be wearing your seat belt properly across your chest and over your lap.
After Lobbying Against It, Haslam Signs Bill Delaying Common Core Test (WPLN)
Governor Bill Haslam has signed a bill into law that will delay testing associated with Common Core. His signature comes after lobbying hard against the legislation. The Haslam administration put on a full court press this year to save the Common Core standards, which they were able to do. But the associated standardized test – known as PARCC – ended up being delayed by at least a year. The state’s education commissioner has called that a “terrible, terrible decision” on the legislature’s part. Common Core supporters urged Haslam to consider a veto. But he signed the testing delay anyway. “
Lobbyists Spending More In Tennessee (Associated Press)
Records from the Tennessee Ethics Commission show lobbyists spent a record amount last year and could spend even more this year. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported the 2013 total was $650,873. The amount was released last week in the commission’s annual report. That amount compares to $568,637 so far in 2014, according to figures on the panel’s website. Most expenditures came during the legislative session, which ended on April 17, but reports for several events that occurred late in the session haven’t been filed. Lobbyists also usually host multiple events later in the year.
‘How do we pay for it?’: County, schools grapple with teacher pay raises (N-S/Witt)
Educators on Monday directly asked Knox County commissioners for teacher raises in a public forum, the first step in the discussion of the 2014-15 spending plan. “We are asking teachers to put our students at the top of the Southeast and we’re doing it at bargain prices,” said Kim Waller, a librarian for Knox County Schools and past president of the Knox County Education Association. Waller handed commissioners a map comparing salaries and insurance costs for teachers in Knox County against surrounding communities where, she said, pay and benefits are greater.
Public hearing held for revised Knox County budget (WATE-TV Knoxville)
Knox County Commission held a public hearing Monday to discuss Mayor Tim Burchett’s revised budget proposal. The changes to the budget are a result of the state cutting basic education program (BEP) funding for schools. Burchett initially presented an overall budget of $729,914,278. The new overall budget will be $727,014,278. The only department seeing a cut from the original proposal is the Knox County school system, which will receive $2.9 million less because of the BEP changes. Gov. Bill Haslam told 6 News last week the changes are a result of a BEP funding formula adjustment.
Davidson Co. election officials discuss double-voting probe (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Nashville’s top election officials are under the microscope after several people were able to vote twice in this month’s primary election. It has already cost one person their job, and the potential for voter fraud could have been much worse. The election administrator said he got tired of hearing from the media about all the problems with the May primary, so he decided to get his staff to do a full report. And after looking at everything, Kent Walls says, he’s pretty happy with the way things were handled and won’t look for any changes in the next election.
Corker in town as Google helps Chattanooga businesses build websites (TFP/Pare)
Holly Jordan is trying to build her new business building gift baskets for customers, and she initially believed that crafting an online presence would turn out to be an “outlandish” exercise for her. “It’s not as hard as I thought it was,” she said after sitting in on a seminar with Google officials in downtown Chattanooga Monday. Jordan was among about 100 small business owners who took part in the effort in which Google experts helped local businesses create a website, get a customized domain name, free web hosting for a year and a local listing on Google Maps.
Employees paid by taxpayers claim they spend most days doing nothing (WSMV)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN, is among those calling for a review after employees paid by taxpayers say they do next to nothing day after day. The employees work for a company that secured a billion-dollar contract to process applications for the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare. We all heard about the bumpy launch of healthcare.gov. The employees under scrutiny were hired by the government to process paper applications. But now that the website is working, some of these folks are saying they basically have nothing to do. Still, they are pulling in regular paychecks.
Protesters tell Senator Alexander to raise the minimum wage (WKRN-TV Nashville)
A small group of protesters stood in front of Senator Lamar Alexander’s Nashville office Monday with a message: raise the minimum wage. “Congress and Senator Alexander aren’t understanding that we, as a family, need money support,” said Darlene Carruthers-Shelton, one of the group’s organizers. “We have to have a raise so we can take care of our families. If he was living on $7.25, how would he manage?” Shelton said, referring to Sen. Alexander. The debate over raising the minimum wage is before Congress. Democrats want to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. It’s a proposal Sen. Alexander strongly opposes.
US Education Secretary Duncan to visit Nashville (Associated Press)
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will make a series of stops in Nashville on Tuesday. He is scheduled to attend a town hall meeting at Brick Church College Prep that morning before speaking a few hours later at a meeting of the Education Writers Association at Vanderbilt University. Duncan will conclude his visit at a roundtable about teacher preparation with Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College faculty and local teachers. Duncan has lauded Tennessee for its education reforms.
House vote may unlock stalled construction at Chickamauga Dam (TFP/Flessner)
Construction on the stalled Chickamauga Lock in Chattanooga could be revived next year under a sweeping new plan for water projects set for a vote in the U.S. House today. But to ensure the new lock is built before the crumbling existing lock must be shut down at the Chickamauga Dam may also require Congress to boost the fuel tax on barge operators that use the lock. The compromise water resources bill scheduled for votes this week in both the House and Senate would alter the way the biggest dam and lock project in America is funded to free up $105 million more for other unfinished lock projects, including the half-finished new lock at the Chickamauga Dam.
Group points out ways to lower TN’s carbon emissions (Tennessean/Brown)
As the federal government weighs more restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions, an environmental think tank is highlighting ways for Tennessee to reduce the greenhouse gas it releases into the atmosphere. Reducing reliance on coal-burning power plants would be one of the most effective ways to lower carbon emissions in the state, according to the report from World Resources Institute, based in Washington, D.C. “Power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S.,” said Michael Obeiter, a senior associate at WRI who led the analysis.
Nashville drug case highlights national problem (Tennessean/Gang)
A recent spate of high-profile prescription drug diversion schemes has led to a renewed focus on the safety and security of the nation’s pharmaceutical supply chain. Two of the recent cases have ties to Tennessee. The schemes put consumers at risk and prompted Congress last year to act to strengthen oversight and eliminate a patchwork of state laws that opened loopholes for the criminal enterprises, drug experts said. • Cumberland Distributors Inc. ran drug warehouses in Nashville and from 2006 to 2009 illegally obtained $58 million of unused prescription drugs and then resold them to pharmacies, federal officials said.
Pay for State Lawmakers Varies Widely (Stateline)
While he was trying to get hired at his current job, Bryan Taylor had one very clear message for those he was trying to convince to hire him: Pay me less than the other guy. Please. As part of his campaign for the Alabama legislature in 2010, Taylor, now a Republican state senator, tapped into still-raging voter discontent over a 2007 vote by the Democratic-controlled legislature to increase members’ annual pay by 62 percent, to more than $50,000. Taylor and many other candidates in 2010 campaigned aggressively on the issue, pledging to undo the pay increases passed over the veto of then-Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican.
Possible drawbacks of the VA firing bill scheduled for Wednesday vote (W. Post)
The House is set to vote this week on a bill that would give the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs authority to fire or demote senior executives for perceived performance problems. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) added the measure to the weekly docket on Thursday, the same date VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testified about reports that VA health clinics throughout the country have cooked their books to hide treatment delays, some of which may have affected patients who died while waiting for care. Ironically, the American Legion has called for Shinseki’s removal because of the alleged coverups, along with other problems such as a longstanding backlog of disability claims and preventable deaths at various VA hospitals.
Tennessee political leaders see VW’s SUV decision coming ‘soon’ (TFP/Pare)
A pair of Tennessee political leaders say they’re upbeat about prospects of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant attracting a new product line and see the German automaker revealing its plans soon. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Monday in Chattanooga that efforts to attract a new sport utility vehicle for the factory are “moving in a very positive way.” “It’s important to the company to announce soon what they’re going to do,” Corker said. “They’re actually getting behind relative to new products in the U.S. This new line is one they really believe will expand their market share in America. I know they’ve got to announce it pretty soon.”
Hamblen County’s strange employment problem (WVLT-TV Knoxville)
Hamblen County is experiencing a job crisis that nobody saw coming. Companies say more than a thousand jobs are available, but there are no workers to fill them. The county added around 700 jobs last year, but the unemployment rate remains high, at 6.9 percent. Team Technologies Inc. has around 30 entry level jobs open right now, but they’re not getting many bites from job seekers. “I really wish some of our younger folks who are graduating high school would come knock on our door, we’d love to put them to work,” says Steve Henrikson, president and CEO of Team Technologies.
High graduation rates more likely in smaller schools (News-Sentinel/Williams)
It’s high school graduation season again, and time to count tasseled heads. When it comes to pushing graduation rates higher, small schools typically score big, according to “Building a Grad Nation,” a report released in April by America’s Promise Alliance, an organization advocating higher graduation rates. “I think our biggest advantage is our small size,” said Scott Porter, principal of Alcoa High School, which graduated 99.3 percent of its seniors in 2013, the highest rate in the Knoxville area last year. “We have about 560 kids at Alcoa, so the classes are very manageable. It allows us to really track every student.”
Drexel is second Nashville charter to close this year (Tennessean/Garrison)
For the second time in three weeks, a Nashville charter school has opted to shut down before it might have been forced to do so. The board of directors of Drexel Preparatory Academy, a three-year-old Whites Creek charter school that narrowly survived termination shortly after it opened, voted Friday to pursue revocation. Drexel’s poor performance in academic achievement, as well as dwindling enrollment that jeopardized fiscal stability, had put the school on track for possible closure by the Metro school board. It’s now set to close at the end of this week, and its 233 students will re-enter the district’s selection process for next fall.
Williamson school board approves textbooks, $40M funding (Tenn/Giordano)
The Williamson County school board approved its list of social studies textbooks Monday despite two attempts at trying to carve books off the list. Board members Tim McLaughlin and PJ Mezera both attempted to eliminate certain books from the list, which was recommended through a review process by teachers and administrators for the 2014-2015 school year. Saying there were errors in the books, McLaughlin wanted to extract seven books from the list so that board members could vote on them individually. Mezera wanted to completely remove another. However, after more than 30 minutes of discussion, board members voted against the amendments and the majority supported the recommended list of about 30 books by a vote of 9-2.
Bristol, Tennessee Board of Education approves $37.1 million school budget (H-C)
The Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to approve a $37.1 million budget for the 2014-15 school year, which Director of Schools Dr. Gary Lilly said includes several, much-needed capital improvement projects. The two biggest construction jobs are a total remodel of the auditorium at Tennessee High School and restrooms facilities at Anderson and Holston View elementary schools, Lilly said. The superintendent said nearly every electronic system inside the decades-old reception hall is failing or is outdated. He added that seating, flooring and other accessories will get dramatic makeovers at an estimated cost of $400,000.
School system requests over $3 million from city (Johnson City Press)
The Johnson City Schools system has requested a budget increase from the city, but based on the city’s preliminary budget, that request may prove difficult to grant. On Monday evening, during the first of three scheduled budget workshops in the Johnson City Municipal and Safety Building, school system representatives requested $3,146,053 in additional funds from the City Commission. With the value of Johnson City’s penny of property taxes set at $170,000, JCS Director of Finance Pam Cox said the request would equate to a property tax increase of 18.5 cents.
Shelby Schools proposes outsourcing sub. staffing to Kelly Services (CA/Backer)
On average, about 800 to 1,000 Shelby County Schools teachers and assistants are absent each day, leaving two human resources employees to find substitutes for schools across the district, according to SCS documents. The district currently is able to find substitutes about 80 to 85 percent of the time, “leaving dozens of classrooms empty on any given day,” according to a district proposal. Given the challenges, SCS is proposing to pay staffing firm Kelly Services Inc. $11 million to staff substitute teachers, early childhood assistants and special education assistants for the 2014-15 school year.
STEM Academy in Clarksville about to graduate its first class (Leaf Chronicle)
The STEM Academy at Kenwood High School this week will graduate its first-ever class, with 24 students. Four years ago, the STEM Academy – encompassing science, technology, engineering, mathematics – started with a freshman class of 46 students and five teachers as a new concept in local education. “The academy came to KHS by virtue of us having the capacity, both leadership and facilities, to host the school within a school,” Principal Hal Bedell said. Warren Everett, mathematics teacher at KHS, joined the program in its second year. He explained that the idea behind STEM is to promote problem-based learning with an emphasis on engineering. The approach integrates subjects of technology, science, engineering, math, history and English.
Jackson Day fund-raiser sets TN Democratic Party record (Tennessean/Cass)
The Tennessee Democratic Party set a new record with its annual Jackson Day fund-raiser, bringing in more than $500,000, the party said Monday. Saturday’s event at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum “was the most successful party fundraiser in Tennessee Democratic Party history,” Chairman Roy Herron said in a news release. “We will net half a million dollars, and over 95 cents of every single dollar will go directly toward electing Democrats.” Herron said just one previous Jackson Day event grossed more money, and it featured President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Gov. Phil Bredesen, Gov. Ned McWherter and U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.
Editorial: Promise still needs thorough planning (Daily News Journal)
Gov. Bill Haslam traversed the state last week for a series of signings of the bill to create Tennessee Promise, which the governor probably hopes will be among the signature accomplishments of his time in office, if not the most important. While we support Tennessee Promise, we retain reservations about effects of the initiative if adequate planning is not in place. Tennessee Promise will provide the opportunity for every high school graduate to complete two years of post-secondary education at no cost to the student and is an effort to increase the percentage of Tennessee residents with post-secondary degrees from 32 to 55 percent to provide the workforce needed for jobs of the 21st century.
Editorial: Think big to control cost of college (Wisconsin State Journal)
Democrats in Wisconsin want to lower the interest rate on student loans to help make college more affordable. Good idea. Letting college students refinance student loan debt, similar to the way homeowners refinance their mortgages, could save thousands of dollars over time. But let’s be honest: Even at zero percent interest, paying back an average $27,000 in student loans is still daunting and limits what graduates can do in the economy. Republicans including Gov. Scott Walker want to freeze tuition for another two years at University of Wisconsin System schools. This makes sense, too, given the System’s lingering and considerable surplus.
Editorial: Broken promise for funding makes colleges compete (News-Sentinel)
The freeze in Tennessee’s higher education expenditures for next year is disappointing for the public colleges and universities that embraced the state’s new funding formula. Instead of looking for ways to collaborate on efforts to reach Gov. Bill Haslam’s ambitious Drive to 55 campaign, higher education institutions in Tennessee will be tempted to fight each other for dollars and rely even more heavily on student tuition and fees to meet expenses. The Complete College Tennessee Act was passed in 2010 and has received national attention for its innovative funding formula.