This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday laid out a process for a public review of the state’s K-12 academic standards in English and math amid continuing discussion about Common Core. Academic standards are typically reviewed in Tennessee every six years. But with discussion in Tennessee and across the country about Common Core state standards, Haslam said it’s time to take a fresh look. “One thing we’ve all agreed on is the importance of high standards in Tennessee,” he said. “This discussion is about making sure we have the best possible standards as we continue to push ahead on the historic progress we’re making in academic achievement.”
Gov. Bill Haslam is giving the public a chance to express opinions about the Common Core State Standards through a website that will list each benchmark and allow people to comment on what should be added or deleted. Haslam announced the process Wednesday, a month after an “education summit” he convened in mid-September to discuss issues facing the state’s education agenda. A vocal minority of participants, including lawmakers, registered their anger about the Common Core. “One thing we’ve all agreed on is the importance of high standards in Tennessee,” Haslam said in a statement. “This discussion is about making sure we have the best possible standards as we continue to push ahead on the historic progress we’re making in academic achievement.” Academic standards are typically reviewed in Tennessee every six years.
Two retired educators who now serve on schools boards agree with Gov. Bill Haslam’s calling for a full review of the state’s participation in the Common Core State Standards. The governor laid out the review process Wednesday that may produce changes to Tennessee’s standards by the end of 2015. Common Core standards, designed by education officials and governors in several states, focus on math and English/language arts. Tennessee formally adopted the program, used for students in grades K-12, in 2010. The governor’s office plans soon to launch a state-operated website that will give the public a chance to review each of the Common Core standards used in Tennessee and offer feedback about what they like or dislike about them. The Southern Regional Education Board, will collect the data in the spring and allow Tennessee educators to review it.
More than 40 teachers, professors and administrators will spend the next year combing through Common Core education standards and suggesting changes. Governor Bill Haslam also announced Wednesday the state is posting the standards to a website in the coming weeks so parents can read them and offer their suggestions. While several of the educators selected for the review committees have been boosters of Common Core, like Lipscomb University’s Candice McQueen, Tennessee Board of Education executive director Gary Nixon says he expects there will be changes made. “I think we’re at the point now that these are going to be Tennessee standards,” Nixon says. “And it’s going to be standards that have been reviewed and commented on by Tennesseans and Tennessee teachers.”
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is laying out a process for a public review of the state’s K-12 academic standards in English and math. Academic standards are typically reviewed in Tennessee every six years. But with discussion in Tennessee and across the country about Common Core state standards, Haslam says he believes it’s time to take a fresh look. In the coming weeks, a website will be available for Tennesseans to go online, review each current state standard and comment on what they like, don’t like, or make suggestions. The Southern Regional Education Board, as a third party, will collect the data in the spring and then turn that information over to professional Tennessee educators to be reviewed and analyzed.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday announced a statewide review of K-12 education standards in language arts and math. The review is large in scope, with several dozen educators and administrators representing public schools, charter schools and universities. The Common Core education standards have drawn debate at all levels of education, and in the state House of Representatives. This past spring, Republican lawmakers delayed implementation of the PARCC test, which measures progress on the Common Core standards. Since then, the governor and other top state leaders have met with administrators, teachers and parents, including an education summit about a month ago.
With two children, Jennifer Smith pays close attention to what her schools are teaching and she’s not a fan of the new Common Core standards for Math and English Language Arts or the fact they’re tested on computers. “In Nashville there are a lot of children who do not have computers at home,” said Smith. Governor Haslam’s office says those concerns are one reason he’s giving parents an opportunity to weigh in on changes. “This is a chance for Tennesseans across the state to take a look at specific standards and say what they like or don’t ,” said Governor’s Spokesperson Dave Smith. Still Jennifer Smith is skeptical because the non-profit group that’s taking those parental comments is the same Southern Regional Education Board that accepted $900,000 this year from the pro-Common Core Bill Gates Foundation.
Gov. Bill Haslam laid out a process Wednesday for Tennesseans to review and comment on Common Core in this state, putting flesh to what he has said will be a “full vetting” of the controversial academic standards. But the plan is to produce recommended changes to Tennessee’s standards by the end of 2015. That pushes the timeline well past the next legislative session, even though many Republican lawmakers are eager to roll back Common Core right now. The governor’s office plans to launch a state-operated website soon that will allow the public to review each of the state’s Common Core standards and say what they like and don’t like. The Southern Regional Education Board, acting as a third party, is to collect data in the spring and have the program reviewed by Tennessee educators.
Some 3,000 high school seniors say they want to attend Volunteer State Community College next fall through Tennessee Promise. That’s nearly 40 percent more than the community college’s current enrollment – an increase President Jerry Faulkner said the college can handle. More than 120 high school seniors and parents from Sumner and beyond came to the last informational session at Vol State on Tuesday, where they applied to enroll in the college through the program that offers two years of tuition-free higher education. Approximately 1,300 Sumner high school seniors have filled the Tennessee Promise application, which exceeds the 800 predicted figures.
West Tennessee Healthcare is working with the state’s Drive to 55 campaign to pair mentors with high school students applying for the Tennessee Promise scholarship. Bobby Arnold, president and CEO of West Tennessee Healthcare, sent an e-mail to employees and asked for volunteers to work with high school students as they complete their college and scholarship applications. “We believe that a strong, well-educated workforce is critical to the future of West Tennessee Healthcare and our state,” Arnold said. ” Being able to secure a good job of choice is important to the financial security and quality of life of the student.” West Tennessee Healthcare has 72 employees who have signed up to mentor students as they transition out of high school. Joyce Noles, director of EMS, and Anthony Myers, a process analyst, signed up.
Tennessee health care officials say they have implemented appropriate practices to handle any Ebola cases. The Tennessee Hospital Association, Tennessee Medical Association and Tennessee Nurses Association issued a joint statement this week saying they’re on heightened awareness for anyone showing up in their emergency rooms and physicians’ offices who exhibit symptoms similar to the Ebola virus. The groups say they’re working in concert with the Tennessee Department of Health, as well as appropriate federal agencies, to ensure appropriate protocols and policies are in place. Earlier this month, Nashville-based HCA donated $1 million to the CDC Foundation to help support the international response to the Ebola epidemic.
A Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officer has been placed on leave after being charged with assaulting his father-in-law. William Casey Pittman, 31, a TWRA enforcement officer, was indicted Tuesday by a Polk County grand jury on one count of domestic assault. He turned himself in Wednesday at the Polk County Jail and was released on a $1,500 bond. Pittman, of McMinn County, was allegedly involved in an altercation with his father-in-law Scott Ledford at Ledford’s home in Old Fort, Tenn., on Sept. 28, according to a news release from 10th District Attorney General Steve Crump. Officers who responded to an E-911 call from a neighbor found Ledford with cuts and redness to his face.
State Democratic leaders said Wednesday they were troubled by Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to expand pre-K programs in only two major cities. “We had an important opportunity to use our own federal tax dollars so more children can have a seat in a pre-K classroom,” said state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, in a news release. “I am extremely troubled that Gov. Haslam has ignored Knox County — despite the district’s interest — and only offered this opportunity to Memphis and Nashville.” The U.S. Department of Education made an offer to states of federal matching dollars to expand pre-K programs. Tennessee was eligible to receive nearly $70 million of its own federal tax dollars.
Dueling football coaches have become central to a bid to unseat state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville. In her television ad, Johnson gets a boost from the legendary Tennessee football coach and player. “I’m coach Johnny Majors,” he says in the 30-second spot. “I know winning takes leaders who have the courage to do what’s right. That’s why I’m voting for Gloria Johnson.” A negative mail piece paid for by the Tennessee Federation For Children, a group that lobbies for school vouchers, features side-by-side photos of Johnson and Kiffin, whose abrupt exit from Tennessee after just one season still has fans of the school furious.
Ahead of a Nov. 4 vote on allowing grocery stores to sell wine, the “vote no” group will spend about $10,000 on radio and in-store advertisements in the Memphis area. Josh Hammond , owner of Buster’s Liquors & Wines in Memphis and the president of the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association , said the marketing effort will be dwarfed by the Red White and Food campaign, which has already started rolling out television and radio ads. The battleground is the 78 municipalities in Tennessee, including Memphis, that collected enough signatures to get the vote on the ballot. If approved — as is expected in Memphis — grocery stores will be able to sell wine beginning July 1, 2016. That is, unless lawmakers move up the date, as Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says is possible.
Supporters and opponents of a proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution to give lawmakers more power to regulate abortion are flooding the television airwaves to try to influence voters ahead next month’s election. A new study released by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity on Thursday finds that a total of $2.4 million has been spent to run more than 3,000 TV spots about ballot measures going before voters this election, with the vast majority of the advertising concerning the abortion amendment. Amendment One seeks to nullify a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision that found several abortion restrictions in state law at the time violated a woman’s fundamental right to privacy as guaranteed in the Tennessee Constitution.
A group of doctors opposed to a controversial ballot proposal about abortion said Tuesday that voters should turn down the measure to protect women’s health. Amendment 1 would bring sweeping changes to the state constitution that will harm women across the state, said Deborah Webster-Clair, a retired obstetrician-gynecologist. She spoke during a press conference at a Planned Parenthood health center in Nashville. “Supporting Amendment 1 will erode a woman’s fundamental right to autonomous decision-making and privacy regarding her own health care,” she said. “Politicians should not be interfering in personal medical decisions when they do not understand the medical basis of those decisions or the physical, emotional or economic impact of each individual pregnancy.”
Tennessee voters could read and re-read Amendment 4 on the ballot and still be clueless of its practical effect. No one has raised any money to either make sure the measure passes or fails. So there’s been no education effort, not even yard signs. While the other amendments hit hot buttons like abortion, judicial elections and income taxes, Amendment 4 – simply put – allows veteran groups to do what most non-profits already can – hold a raffle. Your typical 501(c)(3) non-profit in Tennessee can only hold one raffle a year. And to do so, they have to apply with the state, get specific approval from the legislature and strictly follow their plan, down to having the drawing at specific date and time.
State and federal officials have cleared the way for deep mine operations in Rhea County, Tenn., to begin extracting coal from Dayton Mountain. Officials with Dayton, Tenn.-based Iron Properties LLC said on Tuesday that the coal mine at the larger of the two sites, the 127-acre Liberty Mine, could be in operation by 2017 and initially employ a little less than 100 people. That’s one-third of the anticipated 300 jobs the Rhea County operations are expected to eventually create. The salary for an underground miner is more than $50,000 a year in a county where the median household income in 2012 was $34,842. But Dave Fortner, partner in Iron Properties with owner Jason McCoy, says the world coal market is down and the company is hoping for improvement down the road as the primary mine is developed and readied for opening.
Almost 70 years after he died battling German troops in northeastern France, Army Pvt. 1st Class Cecil Harris of Shelbyville was buried Wednesday with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. “In life, he honored the flag, and in death, the flag will honor him,” U.S. Army Chaplain Capt. Ted Randall said during the graveside service. Harris was killed Jan. 2, 1945, but his remains weren’t found until last year, by French hikers. In a cold, soaking rain, about 15 family members from Tennessee and several others followed the horse-drawn caisson carrying Harris’ flag-draped casket down McClellan Drive at the cemetery while the U.S. Army Band, known as “Pershing’s Own,” played “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
After a trip that took almost 70 years and went halfway around the world and back, a Shelbyville, Tenn., farm boy who fought and died for his country on a French hillside finally got the send-off, the respect, the place of honor he earned with his life. U.S. Army Pvt. First Class Cecil E. Harris was laid to rest Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, on the American soil he died defending. He was killed in action Jan. 2, 1945, near Dambach, France, at age 19. Family members said the service under a raw, rainy sky was an emotional, stirring event. “He got what he deserved. It was real special,” Cecil Harris’ son, William Edwin Harris, said afterward. Eddie Harris never knew his father, and Cecil Harris had met his only son once a few months after he was born in 1944. Then it was off to war.
Democratic Senate candidate Gordon Ball on Wednesday kicked off a bus tour around Tennessee that he hopes will draw attention to incumbent Republican Lamar Alexander’s refusal to engage in a series of statewide debates. The Knoxville attorney has dubbed the tour the “No Show Lamar Bus Tour,” which features a campaign staffer dressed up as a costumed chicken wearing a flannel shirt like the ones Alexander wore in his first successful bid for governor in the 1970s. The Alexander campaign has dismissed Ball’s demands for more debates because of time constraints in the last weeks of the race, and has stressed that the candidates did appear in a candidate forum hosted by the Farm Bureau in Cookeville last week.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Ball could not have been happier to drape his arm around a person in a flannel-clad chicken suit Wednesday morning. The gimmick is a jab at U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s iconic flannel shirt, made popular during his successful gubernatorial campaigns, and Alexander’s refusal to debate before the Nov. 4 general election. Joined by former Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis, Metro Councilman Jerry Maynard and other supporters outside the Howard Office Building in Nashville, Ball repeated his calls for debate. “He won’t come out, he won’t come out and fight. He’ll fight on TV, and he’ll fight through his TV ads, but that’s it,” Ball said. Ball never directly called Alexander a “chicken,” though he called the chicken “Lamar.”
Feathers are flying in Tennessee’s U.S. Senate race in the form of $46,000 in unpaid fees at a South Carolina resort and how a $1 option to buy into a newspaper later turned into a $620,000 personal profit back in 1981. Toss a yellow fowl clad in a red-plaid shirt into the political fryer and the contest between Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democrat Gordon Ball seems as fiery as Tennessee hot chicken as the candidates sprint down the final stretch toward the Nov. 4 election. The latest developments came Wednesday as the Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Ball, a multimillionaire lawyer, owes more than $46,000 in fees he owns on property in a resort near Hilton Head, S.C.
U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Ball kicked off a campaign bus tour Wednesday by continuing to cite major policy differences he has with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and attacking the incumbent’s refusal to participate in televised debates. Ball will join six of the other 10 U.S. Senate candidates on the ballot, including the Constitution and Green party nominees, in Nashville Thursday for a debate the independent candidates arranged. Five blocks south, Alexander is set to speak to a conference of auto manufacturers and suppliers that is due to end 15 minutes before the debate starts but he won’t join the discussion with his challengers. “We have asked Lamar to debate us anywhere, anyplace, anytime and he’s refused. So tomorrow we’ll be debating the other candidates, and Lamar again has refused,” Ball said outside an early voting precinct in Nashville Wednesday.
As noted in this week’s cover story (“A Change Election”), the closest thing to a compelling candidate race on the November 4th election ballot is the statewide contest for a U.S. Senate seat between Republican incumbent Lamar Alexander and Democratic challenger Gordon Ball. Some weeks ago, in an interview with the Flyer, Ball theorized that, like Joe Carr, Alexander’s Tea Party-backed opponent in this summer’s Republican primary, he would be ignored by the highly favored incumbent. Meanwhile, Ball cited some poll figures that he regarded as hopeful, showing Alexander polling at 47 percent and himself at 32 percent.
As the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) headquarters is embarking into something pretty close to uncharted territory, even for this division, Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) was at division headquarters on Fort Campbell Wednesday with questions and concerns about aspects of the mission to Liberia to rein in a fast-spreading Ebola pandemic. At McAuliffe Hall, Blackburn met with Brig. Gen. Mark R. Stammer, senior commander at Fort Campbell in the absence of 101st Airborne commander Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, who is already in Liberia. Also present was recently-arrived division senior enlisted adviser Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Nowak.
After the Polar Vortex put an extra chill in the monthly bills of many TVA ratepayers earlier this year, electricity users are getting a reprieve this fall. TVA will cut November power rates because of a drop in the utility’s monthly fuel cost adjustment. For the typical Chattanooga household that heats with electricity, next month’s bill will be $3.84 lower with the drop in the fuel-cost portion of the monthly power bill. The 2.6 percent cut in electric rates next month from the drop in fuel costs more than offsets the 1.5 percent wholesale rate increase adopted this month as part of TVA’s fiscal 2015 budget. Since last winter when cold temperatures and rising gas prices spiked TVA generation costs, the fuel-cost portion of TVA bills has dropped nearly 30 percent, cutting the overall wholesale rate charged by TVA by about 9 percent from its April peak.
TriStar Centennial, the flagship hospital of Nashville-based HCA Holdings Inc., won state approval Wednesday for a $96 million project that will include the creation of a Joint Replacement Center of Excellence. To create the center, TriStar plans to add 10 new operating rooms and 29 medical/surgical beds. The hospital also plans a redesign of its emergency department to improve workflow and efficiency. Although the emergency department portion of the project (which the hospital estimated represents about $10 million of the total price tag) was unopposed, Saint Thomas West and Midtown hospitals, along with a handful of affiliated physicians and practices, opposed the additional beds and operating rooms HCA was seeking as part of the project.
President Barack Obama’s labor secretary plans to travel next week to Germany to meet with Volkswagen officials to learn more about the works council the company wants to start at the Chattanooga factory. “I believe we need to import this model to the United States, and I’m confident that we will,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez in a speech to the National Press Club on Monday. In his speech in Washington D.C., Perez cited VW’s Chattanooga assembly plant, where the automaker earlier this year sought a National Labor Relations Board election on United Auto Workers recognition. VW officials said U.S. labor law requires a union to set up a works council, but the UAW lost the election by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin.
The standards, called Common Core, have come under fire by a group of Tennesseans who have voiced concerns that the standards are a federal overreach and demand education on topics that don’t belong in the classroom, such as religion. Lilly, speaking to the Bristol Herald Courier editorial board Wednesday, said Common Core does not dictate what is taught in the classroom, it merely provides a set of academic achievement levels that all students must meet. Annette Tudor, the curriculum and instruction supervisor for Bristol Tennessee schools who also attended the meeting Wednesday, said Common Core provides a way to ensure that Tennessee students have the academic achievement to compete with students in other states.
Gov. Bill Haslam spent a good bit of time talking about jobs during a campaign sweep through West Tennessee on Tuesday. We hope he also spent some time listening and that he learned West Tennessee has largely been left behind in the job boom experienced by Middle Tennessee. We were discouraged earlier this month when Haslam raised questions about Tennessee’s relatively high unemployment rate when compared with the national rate. Tennessee’s unemployment rate in August was 7.4 percent. The most recent national rate was 5.9 percent. Haslam expressed disbelief at Tennessee’s standing given the number of jobs added in the state and the number of people filing for unemployment. We think Haslam’s comments showed his vision has been blurred by the rise of Middle Tennessee and that he is out of touch with the lack of progress in West Tennessee.