This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
A Tennessee foster care program has done something never before documented by researchers: made life better, at least a little bit, for a group of foster children who turned 18 and left state care. The new findings give credit to some parts of a program run by Memphis-based Youth Villages. The non-profit’s services helped “aged out” former foster children transition into adult lives — a notoriously challenging time for kids who grew up abused or in legal trouble and who often end up unemployed, homeless or jailed at rates high above their peers. Those who accepted Youth Villages services, including routine weekly counseling on many aspects of daily life, had higher income, more stable housing, better overall economic well-being and some health improvements — all firsts in such a study.
High school students across the state will be able to take college classes like macroeconomics and sociology this fall without paying tuition thanks to a new program rolling out at Middle Tennessee State University. The university’s Dual Enrollment Program will offer eligible students the chance to take the tuition-free courses online or on campus in Murfreesboro. Students at partnering schools in Rutherford, Williamson and Bradley counties will be able to take the courses in their high schools. The courses will yield both college and high school credit. Dual-enrollment programs have long been a staple at Tennessee’s 13 community colleges.
An expanded dual enrollment program at Middle Tennessee State University is set to bring a wider range of college-level courses to high school campuses around Middle Tennessee at little to no cost to high school students. MTSU will partner with seven Rutherford County high schools along with schools in Williamson and Bradley counties to offer dual enrollment courses at high schools, on the Murfreesboro campus or online at schools across the state. Students who pass receive high school and college credits. A new state policy allowed tuition for the courses to be lowered to match the grant amount students can receive for their first two dual enrollment classes. Students would also receive a discounted rate for additional college credits they can take at the high school level.
The Tennessee Board of Regents is taking a look at how students are charged for classes. Nashville Public Radio (http://bit.ly/1zSv3Tu) reports the board wants to encourage students to take more credit hours without reversing a 2009 decision. Six years ago, any additional classes past 12 credit hours, or about four classes, were offered free to students. After deciding that wasn’t fair to part-time students, the board began charging for the extra classes. Officials say because of the change, many students have stopped taking more than 12 credit hours per semester. The board’s chancellor, John Morgan, says this means they’re taking longer to graduate.
Tennessee dropped a spot in Chief Executive magazine’s annual ranking of the best and worst states for business, falling from No. 3 to No. 4. North Carolina jumped ahead of the Volunteer State in the publication’s 2015 rankings, which surveys top executives throughout the country. Texas and Florida kept their positions at the top of the ranking, at first and second place, respectively. Georgia rounded out Chief Executive’s Top 5. Tennessee has historically ranked high on Chief Executive’s list as well as similar rankings by other publications. Business Facilities Magazine has named Tennessee the State of the Year for economic development two years in a row.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has signed a bill that will help protect police dogs and horses. Aron’s Law increases the penalty for killing a police dog or horse. What used to be a misdemeanor theft charge is now a felony. On May 14, 1998 a bank robber in Nashville shot at K-9 Aron and his handler Officer Terry Burnett. Aron was shot once in the chest and twice in the neck and later died. Georgia passed a similar law less than 2 weeks ago. Tanja’s law created stiffer penalties for anyone who hurts a police dog.
Although they routinely refer to themselves as part-time lawmakers, 116 of the 132 members of the Tennessee General Assembly receive health care benefits typically available to full-time employees. The state paid nearly $5.8 million on insurance premiums for those lawmakers from 2008 through the end of April. Lawmakers contributed $1.4 million toward their premiums. The information doesn’t include personal medical records; costs for lawmakers who served during that time but aren’t currently in the statehouse; or the total, actual cost of medical services lawmakers received through their insurance plans.
A controversial bill that would pay thousands of dollars toward disabled students’ education heads to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk for approval. A parent could opt out of sending their child to public school and receive $6,600 toward private school or tutoring services instead. “Any additional funding should always be celebrated, and I certainly think this instance is no exception,” STAR Center President Dave Bratcher said. The STAR Center works with people who suffer from intellectual and developmental disabilities. “There’s many holes and gaps in coverage,” Bratcher said. The legislation applies to children with autism, deaf-blindness, hearing impairments, intellectual disability, orthopedic impairments, traumatic brain injury or visual impairments.
Tennessee is well on the way to levying its most extensive new regulations on abortion in decades, but supporters of abortion rights hope to make them the last for a while. Backers of abortion rights delivered 1,000 letters to Gov. Bill Haslam Monday. They asked him to consider vetoing legislation that would impose a 48-hour wait and require women to receive in-person counseling from a doctor before abortions. Haslam, a Republican, has already signed another measure, Senate Bill 1280, that tightens the inspection rules for abortion providers by requiring them to register as surgical treatment centers. Francie Hunt, senior field manager for Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said those rules should be the end of new regulations.
Opponents to added restrictions on abortions in Tennessee delivered their own message on Monday. Gov. Bill Haslam has already signed one bill into law that places more restrictions on abortions. Another measure sits on his desk, waiting for his signature. Planned Parenthood supporters and representatives took more than 1,000 letters to Haslam’s office on Monday. They are asking that he not sign a bill that would require women seeking an abortion to wait 48 hours before having the procedure. A woman would also be required to sign a consent form. Opponents said more restrictions means more road blocks.
The Tennessee Republican Party (TNGOP) again has Nathan Vaughn in its political crosshairs, this time in an election traditionally viewed as non-partisan. Last weekend, in a TNGOP sponsored direct mail piece and reported robocalls, Vaughn was accused of being a “career politician” who will say anything to win an election. Vaughn, a Kingsport Democrat who served as a state representative from 2003 to 2009, and is also a former city alderman, is one of five candidates running for mayor. The final days of early voting are underway this week in the city election, with Election Day being held on May 19.
Saying nonemergency calls to the Memphis Fire Department’s emergency medical services are driving up response times and costs, Mayor A C Wharton was in Las Vegas Monday to accept an IBM Smarter Cities grant that will use data to combat the problem. Memphis is one of 16 cities worldwide, and four in the United States, to receive part of this year’s round of grants, which IBM values at $500,000 each. About 100 cities applied, an IBM executive said at the IBM Edge Conference. “Our resources are limited so we have to do so much more,” Wharton told conference attendees.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced Monday a “permanent” funding fix for three regional trout hatcheries, including the Erwin National Fish Hatchery, in which the Tennessee Valley Authority will reimburse the facilities $1 million annually to stay in operation. Alexander helped broker a temporary deal in 2013 to ensure Tennessee’s national hatcheries — the Erwin site and the Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery in Celina — would receive funding through 2016. TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson said from Erwin that the agency will pay the facilities in Erwin, Celina, and the Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery in Suches, Georgia, to provide trout for stocking in TVA lakes in Tennessee and Georgia.
In this small suburb outside Milwaukee, no one in the Menomonee Falls School District escapes the rigorous demands of data. Custodians monitor dirt under bathroom sinks, while the high school cafeteria supervisor tracks parent and student surveys of lunchroom food preferences. Administrators record monthly tallies of student disciplinary actions, and teachers post scatter plot diagrams of quiz scores on classroom walls. Even kindergartners use brightly colored dots on charts to show how many letters or short words they can recognize. Data has become a dirty word in some education circles, seen as a proxy for an obsessive focus on tracking standardized test scores.
The search for a new director of schools for Bradley County has been narrowed down to two Middle Tennessee candidates: Dr. Bill Heath, director of Lawrence County Schools, and Dr. Linda Cash, assistant director of Robertson County Schools. On Monday, Bradley County school board Chairman Nicholas Lillios announced the two candidates will be interviewed by the board on May 26. The new director is expected to be in place June 1, replacing Johnny McDaniel, who served in the position for eight years and accepted a buyout agreement of his contact from a divided board in February. Scott Humberd, the supervisor of attendance/technology, has served as interim director since March.
Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre said he was disappointed no money for any new schools is included in the proposed Knox County budget. But he also said teacher raises may be difficult to fund under Mayor Tim Burchett’s proposed $747.1 million budget for 2015-16, presented to County Commission Monday. The budget includes no tax increase, and little else in the way of big spending on new items. County employees would receive a 3 percent raise over time through the plan. Commission is expected to review or alter the proposal and approve it by July 1.
Several state lawmakers are livid that the Haslam administration released information about the cost of their health insurance coverage to the media last week. House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada and others contend that the release violates privacy laws governing health care records. Such arrogance is insulting. Health insurance is part of the legislators’ compensation package, not a record of treatment, and citizens have a right to know the cost of the benefits their tax dollars provide. The Haslam administration was following the state’s Public Records Act by releasing the information at the request of the media. Despite citing privacy as their concern, the real reason these legislators are irate is that their constituents are shaming them for accepting taxpayer-funded insurance while denying health insurance coverage for the working poor.
A story in The Commercial Appeal on Monday about the University of Memphis’ graduation ceremonies contained this quote from Shondolyn Sanders as she awaited the moment she would receive a master’s degree in counseling: “When you walk across the stage, it’s leaving this behind and stepping into the next stage of life.” The thousands of men and women who already have or are waiting to cross that graduation stage this spring, armed with a cornucopia of degrees, probably can relate to Sanders’ anticipation. More than 4,000 graduates will have entered that “next stage of life” by the end of the month. For a city where only 22.9 percent of residents have some college experience or an undergraduate degree, that is an encouraging number, especially if most of the graduates remain in the Memphis area, using their hard-earned skills to make this a better community.