This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Haslam cheers scores, takes selfies at Williamson TCAP party (Tenn/Giordano)
Gov. Bill Haslam was the guest of the day during a Williamson County Schools celebration over the recent release of standardized test scores. Like at a birthday party, complete with a barrage of balloons, Superintendent Mike Looney revealed Tuesday how well students performed on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP, exams. Williamson County students, for the fourth year in a row, rose to the top of the state, raising their scores in nearly every subject and at every grade level of the standardized test. The Tennessee Department of Education released the TCAP scores last week for each district from the 2013-14 school year.
Standards, assessments to top governor’s education focus next year, he says (NP)
Gov. Bill Haslam said he and his administration want to concentrate on on higher standards and how to assess them, he told reporters Tuesday. “I think what you’re going to see from us is more focus really on the higher standards,” Haslam said. “And then we’ll have some discussion about the whole assessment vehicle that we’re using about PARCC, or in delayed PARCC, and using TCAP another year.” The state had the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, PARCC, lined up for students to take in the Spring of 2015, but the legislature demanded the state put the exam out for bid as part of push back against the administration for its use of the politically touchy Common Core standards.
Haslam boasts of record in downtown visit (Daily News Journal)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam touted his record today before an enthusiastic crowd dining at Maple Street Grill on the city’s Public Square. “Tennessee owes less debt per person than any state in the country,” Haslam said, and many packing the restaurant applauded. The dining room was filled with many Republicans who are running for office or re-election. Haslam, for example, sat at a table that included County Mayor Ernest Burgess, Sheriff Robert Arnold, state Rep. Dawn White and state Sen. Bill Ketron. County Attorney Jim Cope also sat at the table. His son Evan Cope, a law partner who is serving as the chairman of the governor’s campaign in Rutherford County, sat at a nearby table with diners who included County Commissioners Robert Stevens and Charlie Baum.
Gov. Haslam meets, greets at Hendersonville City Hall (Tennessean/Lee)
Gov. Bill Haslam greeted local residents Tuesday morning at Hendersonville’s City Hall. Haslam’s stop was one of more than a dozen across the state this week in anticipation of the Aug. 7 Republican primary. Also on the ballot Thursday are gubernatorial candidates Mark Coonrippy Brown, Basil Marceaux and Donald Ray McFolin.
Haslam, Alexander Look to Boost Republican Turnout (Memphis Daily News)
U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher remembers the first time that he talked with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Fincher had been elected to Congress long enough to have made several votes after a 2008 campaign in which he touted his conservative values and stances. And in the process, Fincher admitted to Alexander that he had been critical of Alexander’s voting record during the campaign. It was something Fincher apologized for when he and Alexander first talked face to face. “I said, ‘After I was elected, people criticized me, just like I criticized you. So, I’m sorry,’” Fincher recalled Monday, Aug. 4, during a Republican rally in Bartlett that featured Alexander and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
Gov undecided about a third voucher run (Nashville Post)
While Gov. Bill Haslam said the state needs to keep focused on what it’s already doing in education, he’s undecided about pitching another school voucher plan next year, he told reporters Tuesday. The question of whether to allow students to attend private schools using state taxpayer funds has followed the governor during his entire first term. Initially, he sent a task force to brainstorm an ideal program for Tennessee, then twice pitched small-scale proposals that later died in a Republican-dominated legislature torn between the size of the program.
Haslam awards $6.6M to state Parks and Rec departments (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) doled out more than $6 million Tuesday to help fund various Parks and Recreation projects in Tennessee, including 13 projects around East Tennessee. In all, 42 projects will receive a total of $6.6 million for maintenance or upkeep of nature areas, such as parks and greenways. The grants are part of the Local Parks and Recreation Fund, which was created in 1991.
Haslam Announces $6.6 Million in Parks and Recreation Grants (WGOW-Radio)
Gov. Bill Haslam awarded $6.6 million in parks and recreation grants on Tuesday to support over 40 local projects around the state. According to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the funding will help many projects, including three in Hamilton County thanks to $330,000 in grants. Funds will be directed to support construction of tennis courts, a basketball court, a dog park, a walking trail and restrooms in the city of East Ridge and horse trails, a parking area and a restroom for disabled individuals. Haslam said that “maintaining and improving our parks and recreation areas helps provide healthy ways for Tennesseans to get out and enjoy their neighborhoods and communities.”
Parks to get $189K worth of improvements (Rhea Herald-News)
Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau announced Tuesday more than $6.6 million to fund local parks and recreation projects across Tennessee. The state’s announcement includes $189,000 allotted to the City of Dayton for local park improvements. State officials said in a press release that the funds will be used to resurface six tennis courts, pave the parking area and improve handicap accessibility at the Delaware Avenue Sports Complex.
Smyrna and White Bluff get state grants for parks (Tennessean/Wilson)
Two Nashville-area communities received $250,000 grants for local park projects from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Smyrna and White Bluff both received funding from $6.6 million in grants distributed to help develop various projects across the state, according to a TDEC release. The White Bluff funding will be allocated for the construction of an amphitheater with a walkway that’s ADA-accessible. The City of Smyrna will use the funds to help plan and construct a neighborhood park with a playground, trails and a shelter area. In all, 42 grants were allocated by the state this year as part of the Local Parks and Recreation Fund.
Smyrna lands $250K grant for park (Daily News Journal)
The town’s parks department already has plans for the $250,000 it has received from the state Department of Environment and Conservation. Announced Tuesday, the grant comes from TDEC’s Local Park and Recreation Fund. Smyrna Parks Director Mike Moss said plans call for the money to be used for a park near the West Fork subdivision off Florence Road. “We don’t have a park out that way but as soon as we cut the ribbon on it, we’ll be covered up,” Moss told The Daily News Journal. “I’ve been looking forward to starting on that one for a long time.” The town will be required to match the grant with its own funds, which Moss said will likely come from impact fees generated by new development.
$6.6 million in parks grants awarded in TN (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)
Hamilton, Marion, McMinn and Rhea Counties were a few of the beneficiaries of state grants awarded to parks and recreation facilities around Tennessee. “Maintaining and improving our parks and recreation areas helps provide healthy ways for Tennesseans to get out and enjoy their neighborhoods and communities,” Tennessee Gov Bill Haslam said in a news release Tuesday. “We want to continue to make our state an even better place to live, work and raise a family, and projects like these are key to making that a reality.”
State touts college savings program tutorial (Associated Press)
State Treasurer David H. Lillard Jr. has presented the Anderson County school system with a $2,000 check for getting parents to complete an online tutorial about the importance of saving for college. School officials received the money in exchange for getting parents of children who attend their schools to participate in the tutorial. The tutorial provides information about the TNStars 529 College Savings Program. People who open accounts with TNStars can choose from different investment options ranging from conservative to aggressive.
TN Supreme Court battle brings national money, scrutiny (Tennessean/Haas)
Any other year, the election to retain or replace Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices would be a ho-hum affair. Not this year. More than $1 million has been spent in a battle for the heart of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Three of its five members, Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee, are in a pitched fight against both grassroots and out-of-state groups sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to make the court more conservative. Among those looking to replace the justices are the Charles and David Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, which has been aggressive in trying to elect conservatives in local and state-level seats across the nation.
Prosecutors, law enforcement show up to support justices (N-S/Vines)
Several prosecutors criticized opponents of Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justice Sharon Lee on Tuesday at the Tennessee Supreme Court building in Knoxville as the justices continued a statewide campaign to keep their jobs. James Dunn, 4th Judicial District attorney general based in Sevierville, Wade’s hometown, said he was pleased to endorse the justices, plus their colleague Justice Cornelia “Connie” Clark, for many reasons, having been taught to do what is right. They face a statewide retention vote Thursday. “Things are going on that is not right,” Dunn said. “I wholeheartedly support them.” He alluded to a movement to “replace” the three justices being led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who has said the justices are “anti-business” and “soft on crime.”
Haslam Family Has Given To Contested Justice (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Gov. Bill Haslam says he’d happily appoint Republicans to the state’s Supreme Court if voters move to replace the three Democratic judges in Thursday’s election. He tried to keep himself out of the fight, but several members of his family have given money to campaign for the justices. After an event at a diner in Franklin with Sen. Lamar Alexander, Haslam said his family has given to the campaign of Judge Gary Wade, a former business partner of the Haslam’s. The governor himself and his wife, however, haven’t financially supported any of the justices. Though he would be the one to name replacements if the justices were ousted, he has worked hard to stay out of the fray. Would he be excited to appoint Republican justices?
Why some business owners want to oust the state’s Supreme Court justices (NBJ)
Among the legal community, there’s been alarm at the recent push to oust three sitting members of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Several attorneys have argued that the justices’ removal would pose a threat to the independence of the judiciary, threaten the predictability businesses expect from the state’s highest body and may open the door to outright election of the state’s highest judges. But there are others in the business community arguing the exact opposite: that removing the three Democratic-appointed judges would create greater certainty for businesses.
Shipley touts bill that would allow property to be de-annexed (Times-News)
Rep. Tony Shipley believes the status of our private property is the fundamental right of its owner and not some “greedy” city government. Shipley, who is facing Republican challenger Bud Hulsey in the Aug. 7 primary, made this statement in a recent mailer sent to the residents of Sullivan County. The mailer proclaims “Right Direction: De-Annexation Ahead” and states Shipley plans to co-sponsor a bill in next year’s Tennessee General Assembly that will allow people to remove their property from past annexations. “It is being discussed. I’m not the author of the legislation, but I will co-sponsor it,” Shipley said on Tuesday.
Money talks as Republican wings duke it out in Tennessee (Times Free-Press/Sher)
A fierce ideological civil war is playing out in some Tennessee Republican state legislative primary contests among tea party-style Republicans and traditional conservatives battle ahead of Thursday’s election. Money for independent expenditures poured in by super PACs on both sides reached more than $300,000. “It’s a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” declared Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, a hard-right lawmaker who has been slammed with nearly $30,000 in television ads and direct mail funded by Advance Tennessee, the newest political action committeee on the block.
Nash’s Wine-In-Grocery Activists Have Twice Signatures Needed, If Valid (WPLN)
Voters in towns like Murfreesboro, Lebanon and Mount Juliet will be asked if they want wine in grocery stores in November. But the process of getting it on the Nashville ballot is still hanging in the balance. Wine in grocery store advocates say 30,000 people have signed petitions. That’s double what they need to put the referendum to Nashville voters. But just because thousands have signed the petition at grocery stores around the city, there’s no guarantee the signatures came from registered voters. Kroger Spokeswoman Melissa Eads, who’s working with the wine in grocery stores campaign, said they’ll soon find out how many of the signatures are legitimate.
Tax breaks add up for Memphis companies (Commercial Appeal/Evanoff)
The $40 million worth of tax incentives proposed for a hotel at Graceland fall far short of the big tax deals worked out earlier in the city. While the Graceland project would divert $40 million worth of sales tax revenue collected on the site to pay off construction loans, the deal is smaller than most subsidies for a simple reason. It doesn’t involve property taxes. PILOT property tax break applications soared in the 2000s, reducing taxes owed on about $2 billion worth of buildings and equipment. More than 400 separate PILOT tax deals have been approved to spur jobs and investment, according to a city Treasurer’s office report.
City Mulls Plan to Buy Former State Building (Memphis Daily News)
It would be cheaper and more efficient for the city of Memphis to lease and then buy the vacant Donnelley J. Hill state office building across Main Street from Memphis City Hall than to continue leasing multiple properties spread across town, consultants and city officials told City Council members Tuesday. Universal Commercial Real Estate and CB Richard Ellis Memphis – the consultants the city hired to conduct an independent analysis of the former state building – delved into the costs of the proposed 15-year, lease-to-own offer from the state and, importantly, whether the building was in any condition to be used.
Alexander looks to fend off Tenn. GOP challengers (Associated Press/Schelzig)
After losing his first bid for Tennessee governor 40 years ago, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander shed his blue suit and buttoned-up appearance for a plaid shirt, hiking boots and a 1,000-mile walk around the state. The goal was to connect with voters on a personal level, to make sure he could never be accused by any rival of not being one of them. “I think Tennesseans and I know each other pretty well,” Alexander said. “It’s hard for me to come to Tennessee without meeting one or two families in whose home I spent the night when I walked across the state.”
Bus tour connects Alexander to past (Tennessean/Sisk)
The bus lumbered into the square, a black SUV on either side, blue lights flashing. Lamar Alexander popped out in his red plaid shirt and immediately began shaking hands with the knot of about two dozen people gathered in the shade of a closed antique shop. Alexander’s traveling companion, former Sen. Fred Thompson, emerged from the bus behind him. His goatee neatly trimmed and white teeth gleaming, the lawyer-turned-actor-turned politician who preceded Alexander in the Senate reminisced briefly about his childhood in and around the town. “The Democratic-Union?” he reminisced to a reporter from a local newspaper who had awaited their arrival. “I sold the Democratic-Union, when it was a dime, I think.”
D.C. energy group running TV ads for Alexander (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
A Washington-based group called Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions is spending $280,400 to air a TV ad in support of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s renomination Thursday, and a nonpartisan campaign-finance tracking group reported Tuesday that an energy company is the largest contributor to Alexander’s campaign. The TV ad, running in Nashville and Knoxville, declares that “Lamar Alexander is a conservative leader … making America less reliant on foreign energy … helping develop cheaper, more reliable American energy through innovation, creating good paying jobs.”
U.S. Appeals Court To Weigh In On Gay Marriage In Four States (WPLN-Radio)
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is deciding Wednesday whether Tennessee has to recognize the marriages of three same-sex couples who were married in other states. In total, the judges will hear cases from four states dealing with same-sex marriage. This is the first time the appeals court has taken up the issue. Tennessee’s case deals specifically with three three couples who moved here after getting married elsewhere. They sued the state because it didn’t recognize their marriages, and a U.S. district court sided with them earlier this year. Now, the decision is in the hands of three judges from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees this region.
Same-sex marriage proponents prepare for court case, aftermath (NS/Boehnke)
Thousands of same-sex marriage proponents plan to rally at a downtown Cincinnati park on Tuesday evening, just four blocks from the courthouse where historic arguments on the issue are scheduled for Wednesday. Brandon Paxton,a Chattanooga native who recently moved to Atlanta, is road-tripping to Cincinnati with friends from Tennessee to be there for both the rally and the court arguments. “The good thing is they’re talking about us. We are human beings and they’re realizing it,” he said. “I’m excited to see where people are in their individual states and I’m wanting to see how people view the cases, knowing there’s not going to be a ruling soon.”
Does Raising High School Grad Requirements Work? (Governing)
If the goal of adding more math and science courses to high school graduation requirements is better preparing students for in-demand technical fields, states may have to do more to produce results, according to a new report looking at test scores in Illinois. A 2005 Illinois law mandating a minimum of three years of math and two years of science for graduation made no significant impact on college-readiness exam scores, though the law might be linked to a slight improvement in college enrollment, according to the report, released by American College Testing (ACT), the company behind the ACT standardized test.
TVA eliminates 2,000 jobs as part of cost-cutting campaign (TFP/Flessner)
In its biggest staff cuts in more than two decades, TVA is eliminating more than 2,000 jobs this year to pare expenses and make electric rates in the Tennessee Valley more competitive with neighboring utilities. Most of the staff reductions are being made by not filling vacant jobs and through retirements and resignations by the end of next month. TVA President Bill Johnson said Tuesday the voluntary reduction offers “were well received” and avoided the need for massive firings, although some employees are being laid off. “We are well on our way toward achieving our multiyear goal of reducing operating and maintenance costs by a sustainable $500 million (below 2013 spending levels),” Johnson said.
Subsidies boost movie industry in South; some question benefits (TFP/South)
Lights, camera, subsidy! Georgia boasted plenty of all three in fiscal year 2014, leading to an estimated $5.1 billion economic impact stemming from the 158 feature film and TV productions shot in the Peach State, including “The Hunger Games,” “Taken 3,” “Insurgent” and “Fast and Furious 7.” A handful of Georgia-filmed movies and TV productions scheduled for coming months include “Last of Robin Hood,” “Dumb and Dummer To,” “The Walking Dead,” “Constantine” and “The Vampire Diaries.” A number of studios, film facilities and education programs also have popped up in a bid to make the silver screen surge a permanent fixture.
Tennessean newspaper to make cuts, reshuffle (Associated Press)
The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville has announced it will make cuts and reshuffle its newsroom. The move comes as parent company Gannett divides its print and broadcast divisions into separate companies. Executive editor Stefanie Murray told WPLN-FM that The Tennessean hit a “turning point” after years of incremental cuts and reorganizations. Almost everyone will have to reapply for new jobs. There will be fewer managers, more reporters and columnists, and a larger investigative team. But ultimately, the newsroom will shrink by 15 percent.
Tennessean unveils bold new structure for newsroom (Tennessean/Murray)
For the past month, I’ve been telling you in my Sunday column about some of the things we’re doing and thinking about inside The Tennessean newsroom. Today, we took a bold step forward in our evolution. I want to make sure you – our readers – get a sneak peek directly from me at what’s happening inside 1100 Broadway. I’m confident you’ll love the end result: we’re promising a stronger, more interesting Tennessean delivered by a highly engaged group of journalists who care about Nashville. The bottom line is that we’re embarking on an ambitious project to create the newsroom of the future, right here in Nashville. We are testing an exciting new structure that is geared toward building a dynamic, responsive newsroom.
Tennessean Cuts Managers, Adds Reporters In Major Newsroom Shakeup (WPLN)
Just as parent company Gannett spins off its newspaper business, The Tennessean has announced cuts and a complete reshuffling of its newsroom. Almost everyone will have to reapply for new jobs. There will be fewer managers, more reporters and columnists and a larger investigative team. But ultimately, the newsroom will shrink by 15 percent. Currently, the headcount is at 89. There are 76 positions on the new org chart. Executive editor Stefanie Murray says the Tennessean hit a “turning point” after years of incremental cuts and reorganizations. “None of us wants to lay anyone off and none of us wants to continue to nibble around the edges.
Tennessean shedding jobs as part of newsroom restructuring (N. Biz Journal)
Members of The Tennessean newsroom will have to reapply to continue working with the paper, part of a restructuring that was announced today. In a story published online today, Tennessean Executive Editor Stefanie Murray said the changes represent a “reset” of the newsroom. “Current positions in our newsroom are changing dramatically, and every job in the newsroom is being redefined,” Murray writes. “Instead, we’re starting from square one with a new approach and a new set of jobs. Our employees will have the opportunity to choose the jobs they want to apply for.” There will not be jobs for everyone, however. Murray told WPLN Nashville Public Radio that the newsroom will shrink by 15 percent — from 89 positions to 76.
Tennessean overhauling newsroom (Nashville Post)
The newsroom staff at The Tennessean is preparing for an overhaul that will involve more than a dozen job cuts and all editorial employees re-applying for their jobs. The planned restructuring comes on the heels of news that Tennessean parent company Gannett will split its publishing division from its broadcast and digital operations. Officials with the morning daily say they are redefining the scope of reporting and editing positions and, among other things, plan to add writers covering University of Tennessee athletics as well as the retail and tourism sectors.
Metro, other TN school districts stop buying social studies textbooks (TN/Garrison)
It isn’t time for final goodbyes just yet, but Metro Nashville Public Schools and other Middle Tennessee school systems have begun to part ways with social studies textbooks. In a first for MNPS, the district opted not to purchase social studies textbooks this year when the time came to replace outdated versions every six years. Instead, Metro administrators have asked teachers to use websites, interactive videos and primary resources as the main way to teach history, geography and other social studies topics. Though older textbooks will still be in classrooms, and teachers can use them as resources, they are no longer the central focus.
California: New state budget emphasizes funding for education (Reuters)
California’s newest budget package of $152.3 billion in state spending emphasizes large increases for education, pays down debts, and proposes a 32-year plan to fully fund the teachers’ pension system, the state’s nonpartisan fiscal and policy advisor said on Monday California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office released details on the state’s preliminary fiscal 2014-2015 budget plan, which assumes an 8.6 percent increase over last year’s spending The plan boosts funding for schools and community colleges; augments monies for child care and preschool by $255 million; increases in-home support services for the elderly or disabled; offers a one-time $100 million payment to the multifamily housing program; and pays down the state’s $1.6 billion principal on deficit financing bonds.
Illinois: Budget cuts prompt a dozen historic sites to pare schedules (C. Tribune)
Visitors to some state-run historic sites, such as Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield, will have fewer days a week to access them starting later this year, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency announced Monday. Of the state’s 56 historic sites, statues and memorials, 12 will be closed extra days each week or offer reduced hours earlier in the year than normal in an effort to reduce costs, the agency said in a news release, blaming the closures on the general assembly’s recently approved budget that cut the sites’ funding. “If the cuts aren’t reversed, we’ll simply run out of money to operate sites next year,” Illinois Historic Preservation Director Amy Martin said in a statement.
Editorial: Making Math Education Even Worse (Wall Street Journal)
I first encountered the Common Core State Standards last fall, when my grandson started sixth grade in a public middle school here in Berkeley, Calif. This was the first year that the Berkeley school district began to implement the standards, and I had heard that a considerable amount of money had been given to states for implementing them. As a mathematician I was intrigued, thinking that there must be something really special about the Common Core. Otherwise, why not adopt the curriculum and the excellent textbooks of highly achieving countries in math instead of putting millions of dollars into creating something new? Reading about the new math standards—outlining what students should be able to learn and understand by each grade—I found hardly any academic mathematicians who could say the standards were higher than the old California standards, which were among the nation’s best.