This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Official: Tennessee Promise program has 22,800 registered (Associated Press)
With a month left for high school seniors to apply, 22,800 students have already registered for Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise program. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports the enrollment number was cited by Mike Krause during a Friday meeting of the Tennessee Board of Regents. Krause is the executive director of the state’s Drive to 55 initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans who have college degrees or certificates to 55 percent by the year 2025 in order to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state. Tennessee Promise, which allows high school graduates to attend two-year state community colleges or colleges of applied technology for free, is a cornerstone of Drive to 55.
A Tennessee Promise to keep (Mountain Press)
Under Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise program, which seeks to offer two years of free college to Tennessee residents, there may have never been an better time for students statewide to pursue a four-year degree. And those students, it seems, are making the most of the opportunity. In a presentation to the Tennessee Board of Regents Friday, Mike Krause, executive director of the state’s Drive to 55 initiative, confirmed that more than 22,800 students to date have enrolled to participate in the last-dollar scholarship plan. In Sevier County, it’s something many are already used to; through the tnAchieves and Partners in Progress programs, many Sevier students have already gotten last-dollar scholarships to cover their first two years.
Editorial: New Tennessee Promise builds optimism, adds uncertainties (DNJ)
While at one time the focus of Middle Tennessee State University and other universities seemed to be on enrollment numbers, the emphasis now appears to be on “quality control” — not just getting the students but getting them through to graduation and in a timely manner. This transition is partly due to changes in funding formulas for public higher education. Enrollments are not enough to get state dollars; universities now must show that the students are graduating. MTSU recently announced new programs to reaffirm this commitment to student performance and also to acknowledge that many changes are in store for post-secondary education in the state because of Tennessee Promise.
Gov. Bill Haslam makes unexpected Afghanistan trip (Associated Press)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was among a delegation of governors invited on an unexpected trip to visit military personnel Afghanistan. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval were also invited by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Cuomo said in a statement that he was working with federal partners to increase preparedness and protect New Yorkers from the threat of global terrorism. He also praised the work of the members of the U.S. military fighting overseas and was meeting with American troops stationed there. A statement from Cuomo said the delegation arrived Saturday and included Sandoval, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Missouri Gov. Jeremiah Nixon.
Cuomo, With a Delegation, Arrives in Afghanistan (New York Times)
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday as part of a delegation of governors visiting troops and receiving briefings on counterterrorism and security issues, his office said. Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, traveled to Washington on Friday and met with Defense Department officials, according to his office. He then flew to Afghanistan, stopping first in Germany to meet with wounded soldiers. Also on the trip, which was sponsored by the Defense Department, were Govs. Bill Haslam of Tennessee and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, both Republicans, and Jay Nixon of Missouri, a Democrat. The under secretary of the Army, Brad Carson, was also part of the delegation. Mr. Cuomo, who is seeking a second term in November, has rarely left New York during his time as governor.
Tennessee Gov. Haslam orders state agencies to cut spending (TFP/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam has ordered state agencies to slash discretionary spending by up to 7 percent as his administration builds the new budget it will present to legislators early next year. The move comes with the state’s general fund, which pays for most functions of government including education, showing a $302.4 million revenue shortfall for the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget that ended June 30. Administration officials on Friday confirmed the directive given to departments. Agencies’ plans are due Monday. How much actually winds up getting cut and where in Haslam’s fiscal year 2015-2016 budget will depend on a variety of factors. But after years of reductions, Tennessee may be on the verge of having to make tough choices next year, possibly abolishing entire programs, said one top lawmaker.
13 teens escape Tenn. detention, most recaptured (Associated Press/Loller)
Thirteen teenagers broke out of a Nashville youth detention center and all but one were recaptured within hours, authorities said Saturday, marking the latest of a rash of security breaches at the complex. The 13 teens overpowered a guard at the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center late Friday, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services said in a statement. It said they took the guard’s radio and keys and let themselves out of a dormitory and ran to an exterior gate. It is not yet known how they got outside the fence. The statement says Nashville’s Metro police and Tennessee Highway Patrol officers regained custody of all but one youth within hours.
Third escape at Woodland Hills, despite security upgrades (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Another break out at Woodland Hills Youth Development Center Friday left officials scrambling to improve security there for the third time this month. Around 11 p.m. Friday, 13 teenagers broke out of the juvenile lockup after two of them attacked a guard and stole his keys and radio. Metro police working alongside the Tennessee Highway Patrol had taken 12 of the teens back into custody within hours. Sixteen-year-old Timothy B. Willis from Lawrence County, whose record includes theft, assault and runaway charges, remained at large late Saturday. After overpowering the guard, the teens used his keys to get out of their dorm and into an outdoor courtyard on the complex, according to a DCS statement. One of them wriggled through a small gap between the perimeter fence and a rolling gate.
Guard overpowered, 13 escape Woodland Hills (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Thirteen teenagers escaped from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center Friday night. Two teens overpowered a guard at about 11 p.m., taking his keys and radio, according to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. The group used the keys to open the back door and let others escape the dormitory. The escapees ran to the front gate, where one of them squeezed through a small opening. That person then used a rock to smash a window at the guard shack and open the gate for the others. Two guards were injured during the escape. One has been treated and released from the hospital. DCS officials said 65 kids and 14 staff members were on campus Friday night.
Amendment 1: Women seeking abortions becomes flashpoint (CA/Wadhwani)
In Alabama, abortion rights advocates have set up an online crowd-sourcing campaign to raise funds to help women get to Nashville for an abortion. In northern Mississippi, where there isn’t an abortion clinic for hundreds of miles between Jackson and the Tennessee border, the National Organization for Women refers women facing unwanted pregnancies to CHOICES, a Memphis abortion clinic. And in Kentucky, advocates have organized rides for women to clinics in Nashville and Bristol in East Tennessee. At least one Tennessee clinic, The Women’s Center in Nashville, advertises $25 discounts for out-of-state clients.
Traffic citation fees to increase by $5 (Times-News)
Speeding, running a red light or blowing through a stop sign, are going to cost you five bucks more in a few weeks, thanks to a measure approved by the Tennessee General Assembly earlier this year. Public Chapter 750 imposes a $5 fee on every traffic citation that results in a plea of guilty, no contest or a judgment of guilty. The money raised from the fee is to go towards the development and operation of electronic citation systems, ie the PDAs police and sheriff’s departments use for reporting and citations. The general assembly authorized municipalities to charge and collect the fee through city courts with $1 to be retained by the court clerk and $4 to the law enforcement agency that prepared the citation.
Senatorial duel or duet? (Associated Press/Schelzig)
In a recent speech, Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Gordon Ball made light of his F rating from the NRA, issuing what he called a “challenge” to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander: “His piano versus my Glock.” Alexander, a former two-term Republican governor who also ran for president twice, is a piano player who often played at campaign events and other public appearances. Observers were quick to note the Tennessee Constitution disqualifies anyone who fights a duel — or issues a challenge to one — from holding public office. Ball laughed off those concerns Tuesday. “I was kidding, obviously, and said it in jest,” Ball said, noting that he was standing beneath a statue of President Andrew Jackson, who he said “wasn’t afraid to have a duel or a debate.”
Long-time political ally leaves Fleischmann camp (Times Free-Press/Brogdon)
After an uncomfortably tight primary victory, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has severed ties with longtime political adviser and ally Chip Saltsman. And the Tennessee Republican faces another round of questions from the Federal Election Commission over finance reporting. Saltsman has been with Fleischmann since his 2010 congressional bid, in which he edged out former Republican Party Chairwoman Robin Smith in an aggressive primary campaign and later won the general election. Saltsman also served as Fleischmann’s chief of staff during much of the Ooltewah Republican’s first two terms and ran his 2012 re-election bid. After leaving Fleischmann’s congressional staff last year, Fleischmann’s campaign has paid Saltsman’s consulting firm, S & S Strategies, $25,000, according to campaign finance filings.
UAW gains allies in bid to organize VW in Chattanooga (Times Free-Press/Pare)
A United Auto Workers official says the union has taken “a big step” toward gaining representation of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga employees and creation of a first-in-the-U.S. works council at the plant. The UAW, VW’s global group works council and European union IG Metall have signed a letter of intent to jointly commit to organizing the Chattanooga plant as “a UAW-represented facility” and start the process of forming a works council. “This is unique,” said Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer. “I don’t know of any formal agreement between organizations of this nature.” The letter said the parties agree to work for a definitive agreement on matters contained in a “foundation document” specifying certain issues such as a joint training program, internships and communications.
Middle school class size averages growing (News-Sentinel/McCoy)
The average class size for Knox County Schools’ middle schools last year ranged from about 15 students at Whittle Springs to about 27 students at West Valley, according to data analyzed by the News Sentinel. According to that analysis — which looked at three years of average class sizes for grades 6, 7 and 8, and each core subject class by grade — West Valley, South-Doyle and Gresham had the highest average class sizes among the district’s middle schools, with 26.69 students, 24.73 students and 24.25 student, respectively. Rounding out the bottom of the list were Halls with 18.41 students, Vine with 15.62 students and Whittle Springs with 14.74 students. That trend was mimicked when the newspaper analyzed the numbers for the schools by subject.
School systems work to make menus comply with federal guidelines (DNJ)
School nutrition employees take pride in preparing meals for students they say are healthy and meet federal guidelines. But with offerings such as chicken sandwiches and stuffed crust pizza gracing high school serving lines each day, it may not appear that way at first glance. Fred Blair, director of food nutrition for Rutherford County Schools, said the district has come a long way since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was adopted. “It’s been a big change for us. We’ve had to get rid of all the fryers and replace them with ovens that cook with dry heat or steam. Early on, when we started adding in whole- grain pizzas, things like that, kids didn’t like it, but they started to catch on,” he said.
Tom Humphrey: Litter of letters gives illusion of accomplishment (News-Sentinel)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s Identification and Development of Educational Acronyms (IDEA) Task Force recently issued its third annual report, listing positive steps taken to expand knowledge of existing governmental acronyms and recommending continued creation of new abbreviations as a means of streamlining state government and enhancing efficiency in communication. IDEA, created by Executive Order 86 (XO86), works with the Public Safety Coalition (PSC) and other Haslam cabinet groups and task forces in a broad administration effort informally called TASK (Think About Stuff Knowingly). It is chaired by Mark Cate, the governor’s chief of staff (COS), with an executive committee including chairmen of administration-appointed task forces on school funding, health and wellness, services for senior citizens, veterans employment, criminal sentencing and school vouchers
Editorial: End TennCare excuses, choose new director (Tennessean)
Enough. No more stalling, no more lies, and no more of the current leadership at TennCare. Darin Gordon, director of TennCare and a deputy commissioner of the state Department of Finance and Administration, was told nearly a month ago by U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell that the agency for Medicaid in Tennessee must set up a timely appeals process for thousands of people who have applied for eligibility. Instead of working on a way to fulfill this important obligation, Gordon apparently has spent the intervening time working to get Campbell’s order reversed. On Friday, Gordon, Finance/Administration Commissioner Larry Martin and Human Services Commissioner Raquel Hatter filed a challenge with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Guest columnist: Double whammy: Amendment 1, TennCare expansion (Tenn)
According to the World Health Organization, each year there are over 20 million unsafe abortions throughout the world, with close to 50,000 maternal deaths occurring as a result. While America’s contribution to these numbers is very small, as many states in America continue to chip away at a woman’s right to have a safe and legal abortion, that contribution will most likely rise. Tennessee is about to become one of these states. On Nov. 4, voters will be asked to vote yes or no to Tennessee constitutional Amendment 1, which states: “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”
Editorial: Workforce Center provides multiple benefits (Leaf Chronicle)
Workforce Essentials Inc. and the Tennessee Career Center celebrated last week the grand opening of a three-story, nearly 40,500-square-foot building at on Madison Street in downtown Clarksville. Officially named The Workforce Center, this new facility has immediately become a visual cornerstone of downtown Clarksville, consolidating vital job and community services in one attractive building designed by the local Lyle-Cook-Martin architectural firm and built by Romach Inc. of Franklin, Tenn. Workforce Essentials, formerly in leased space on Main Street, and the Career Center, previously at Veterans Plaza for about two decades, are now housed together near the heart of downtown and Austin Peay State University, which is quite appropriate.