This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to speak at the Tennessee School Boards Association annual convention in Nashville. The convention is being held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. The Republican governor is expected to speak on Monday. Last Thursday, the governor’s embattled education commissioner announced he’s leaving for the private sector. Kevin Huffman’s departure comes amid heavy criticism of the commissioner’s lead role in the state’s education overhaul that has included the implementation of Common Core standards and changes to teacher tenure rules. Haslam told reporters on Friday that he wanted Huffman to remain in his administration for a second term, but that Huffman decided what was best for him and his family. Haslam has not said when he will name a successor.
No matter what your perspective — teacher, parent, administrator, community member or business owner — the progress that Tennessee’s schools have made over the past seven years should encourage you. The numbers don’t lie, at least not in this case. The math, science and English TCAP scores in grades 3-8 have increased by 16.7, 11.7 and 4.7 percent, respectively. The algebra, English and biology end-of-course scores in our high schools are all higher, and by as much as 17.1 and 21.2 percent in math. The number of Tennessee students scoring proficient on all four ACT college-readiness benchmarks is up 4 percent, although not nearly as high as anyone would like.
A plan to offer free tuition to all Tennessee high school graduates has some higher-education institutions looking to hire more faculty. Gov. Bill Haslam announced the initiative as a way to help boost the number of Tennesseans with two- or four-year degrees to 55 percent, up from 33 percent now. The Daily News Journal reports that Motlow State Community College plans an open house at its Smyrna campus on Tuesday. The school is looking for instructors in almost 30 areas including math and music. Across the state, about 56,000 of Tennessee’s roughly 62,000 high school seniors have applied for free tuition, but officials have said they don’t expect that many to participate in the program.
More grants are being offered to promote energy efficiency projects in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam and Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau recently announced a fourth offering of the Clean Tennessee Energy grants, totaling $2 million. The grants will be used to fund energy efficiency projects for municipal governments, county governments, utility districts and other similar entities across Tennessee. Funding for the projects comes from an April 2011 Clean Air Act settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority. The maximum grant amount per project is $250,000 and requires a match from the applicant.
Law enforcement agencies across Tennessee are trumpeting a drop in meth lab busts, but their excitement is tempered by a cheaper, stronger version of the drug coming into the state from the same Mexican drug cartels that bring heroin and cocaine. Methamphetamine lab busts and seizures are down 41 percent across the state, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Other meth-heavy states such as Missouri and Oklahoma have seen similar trends this year. Stronger enforcement and new legislation regulating the sale of key ingredient pseudoephedrine are getting credit for the drop, but expert Mike Stanfill said it is also tied to large amounts of the drug that have started coming in from Mexico over the past year.
Along with 22 other states, Tennessee received a grade of “D” when it comes to promoting shared parenting after divorce or separation, according to a new National Parents Organization 2014 Shared Parenting Report Card. “Our report highlights that many states are not only discouraging shared parenting, but they are also depriving children of what they benefit from most — ample time with both of their parents — while also enabling a system that fosters parental inequality,” said Ned Holstein, founder and chairman of NPO. Tennessee’s low grade stems from three factors: It is only when the parents agree to joint custody that Tennessee presumes that it is in the child’s best interest; the state’s statutes do not explicitly provide for shared parenting during either temporary or final orders; and Tennessee does not contain any policy statement or other language encouraging shared parenting.
Shunned by much of the Tennessee and Washington GOP establishment, given up for politically dead by most observers, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais triumphed over his opponents this year despite the odds. But does this mean the South Pittsburg physician also finally triumphed over the nationwide headlines about his scandalous past — extramarital affairs with patients, pressing one to get an abortion, going along with his first wife’s decision to have two abortions? The answer appears to be yes, say some Republicans, among them Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney. “I think the voters have spoken twice now after these issues have been brought out,” Devaney said last week. “I think they’re ready to move on.”
The next few weeks will test whether HealthCare.gov can continue to operate reliably after it processed tens of thousands of new insurance applications this weekend and appeared to experience only isolated bumps. The second year of Affordable Care Act insurance enrollment, which began Saturday, didn’t have the type of widespread technical meltdowns that frustrated consumers last year. More than 500,000 people successfully logged into HealthCare.gov on Saturday, and about 100,000 people submitted insurance applications to the site, federal health officials said. Pockets of problems, however, did emerge. Some previous users who returned to HealthCare.gov had trouble submitting or resetting passwords, locking them out of accounts. A handful of state-run exchanges, such as those in Washington and Vermont, grappled with technology gaffes over the weekend that at times stalled enrollment.
A new report that calls on Tennessee to increase teachers’ pay shows that the state shortchanges school districts right out of the gate. The report says that teacher salary in Tennessee averages $50,116 a year. But when it comes to providing state funding, the state Department of Education shaves about $10,000 off that, and assumes the average teacher here earns $40,447. According to a 2007 redo of Tennessee’s Basic Education Program (BEP), the state was supposed to pay 70 percent of a teacher’s salary, while the local school district picked up 30 percent. But in Hamilton County, which is considered to be the second- or third-wealthiest county in Tennessee, the state education department factors in a “wealth index” under its formula and further reduces its contribution.
Declarations about the end of the political season may have been a little premature since successful and unsuccessful candidates in recent elections have announced intentions to seek new offices. State Rep. Rick Womick of Rockvale was unopposed in his race to win re-election to his 34th District seat, and he has announced plans to seek the House speakership that State Rep. Beth Harwell of Nashville now holds. Womick and Joe Carr, who did not seek re-election to his 48thDistrict seat, are bringing their tea-party leanings to their new campaigns. Carr is seeking the chairmanship of the state Republican Party and to oust the current chairman, Chris Devaney, who plans to seek re-election. Womick is critical of Gov. Bill Haslam, particularly in regard to the governor’s support for Common Core State Standards, and he views Harwell as an ally of Haslam.