This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
More than 9,000 Tennessee adults have signed up for free technical college under Tennessee Reconnect, a new statewide grant that covers tuition at any of the state’s 27 colleges of applied technology. State officials are calling it a marketing success.vStudents at technical colleges, or TCATs, earn certificates and degrees in fields including welding, cosmetology or information technology. The schools don’t have big advertising budgets, says associate vice-chancellor Carol Puryear, and instead rely mostly on word-of-mouth recruiting. That’s not always effective. After Colleen Gill was laid off from a longtime job, she found out about TCAT Nashville at the unemployment office, she says. But none of her friends had heard of it.
Michael McKernan’s heart pounded as he approached the community college in Gallatin, Tenn. and the exam that would decide his future. He had recently turned 18, which aged him out of foster care. McKernan, a lanky jokester who speaks with a Southern twang, had dropped out of high school and needed to test for the GED that day or risk losing a shot at state-funded scholarships for college. He knew he couldn’t afford tuition as an overnight stocker at Walmart. It was December 11, the last opportunity that year to take the test in his county. He’d nervously put it off, staying up late with thick practice books and Monster energy drinks. He wanted to go farther than the parents who abandoned him. His father was in prison. His mother met a man, he says, and left him with his step-father.
Tennessee is posting nearly 100,000 jobs on its statewide job inventory, which is now accessible to job seekers on their phone or mobile device. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has launched a mobile app for iPhone and Adroid users to provide free access to thousands of jobs, which can be easily displayed near where the user resides. “A lot of people don’t realize that Tennessee employers have a large inventory of jobs available,” Tennessee Labor Commissioner Burns Phillips said. “This app identifies a job seeker’s location and drops pins around it identifying the locations of relevant jobs. It really is amazing technology.” The new app’s functionality will allow users to access the entire Jobs4TN Online Services database.
Downtown Memphis has gained one of its larger office users since bankrupt Pinnacle Airlines pulled out in 2013. Cincinnati-based freight broker Total Quality Logistics will open a Downtown office Aug. 31 with plans to hire 100 people over five years, state and company officials said Tuesday. The company plans to invest $1 million in opening a sales office in 10,000 square feet of leased space in Peabody Place Office Tower at 100 Peabody Place. An influx of office workers would be welcome news as Downtown continues to recover from job losses led by a 600-job hit when the former Pinnacle Airlines vacated One Commerce Square in May 2013.
A Cincinnati-based transportation services company is planning its third expansion since 2014 in the state, turning its attention to Memphis. Total Quality Logistics is opening a sales office in Downtown Memphis, a move that is expected to create at least 100 new jobs in the next five years. The company is investing $1 million in the project. TQL opened its first office in Tennessee in Downtown Nashville in early 2014, planning to create 105 jobs by the end of next year. So far, the company has 60 employees in Nashville. In March, TQL invested another $1 million in a new office in Downtown Nashville, committing to create another 100 jobs in five years. That office is expected to open in July, and has begun hiring. The Memphis office is expected to open in August.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed off on a compromise meant to gradually replace Common Core. The deal, which passed the state legislature last month, lets teams of educators picked by Haslam review the teaching standards and recommend changes. But those teams will report to an oversight committee chosen jointly by Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell. House Bill 1035 is designed to let Tennessee phase out Common Core without gutting the program all at once. The education standards were put in place five years ago to raise student performance by setting the same goals as other states. But Common Core has become a lightning rod for those concerned about too much testing, overly rigid teaching methods and federal involvement in education.
Gov. Bill Haslam appears to have quietly signed a bill to review and replace the controversial Common Core State Standards in Tennessee. The bill, which passed through the Tennessee General Assembly last month, requires the state’s board of education to create two committees – composed of representatives from both higher education and K-12 schools – that will respectively focus on the review of current English and math standards and the development of new ones. The committees will be required to recommend new standards to be fully implemented by the 2017-18 school year. According to the website of the state General Assembly, Haslam signed the measure on Monday.
The Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti, a faith-based organization headquartered in Chattanooga, announced its annual benefit, Haiti Rising, scheduled for Thursday, June 11, and will feature Governor Bill Haslam as its special guest. “We are excited to have Governor Haslam speak at our event,” said Chris Devaney, the newly appointed executive director at CNP. “Empowering individuals and communities with the ability to raise healthy children and families is the mission of CNP. The governor’s leadership on issues affecting Tennessee families is strong. I think it is a perfect fit.” CNP of Haiti is based in the southwestern part of the country in the city of Leogane, which was near the epicenter of the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Tennessee has dropped a spot in Chief Executive magazine’s annual rating of the best and worst states for business over political interference on labor issues at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. According to the magazine, Tennessee is on the downward trend because “state politicians shouldn’t have messed in Volkswagen’s unionization business.” The state’s ranking dropped from third to fourth. Opposition to the United Auto Workers’ efforts to unionize the Volkswagen plant has been led by Republicans like U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam. Corker said in 2013 that VW would become a “laughingstock” if the UAW was recognized at the Chattanooga plant and Tennessee Senate Pro Tem Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, last year called Volkswagen’s approach to unions “unAmerican.”
Westbound lanes of Tenn. 385 will be closed in Collierville Wednesday to allow for construction work on a ramp along the future Interstate 269 route, state Department of Transportation officials announced. The closure will be in effect beginning at 9 a.m. and lasting through 6 p.m. between Tenn. 57 and Tenn. 72. Should weather or other problems force a delay in the concrete-pouring, the alternative days for the closure will be Friday and Saturday.
More traffic tie-ups are coming this weekend at the Exit 8 junction of Interstate 24, as extensive roadwork continues in that area. Tennessee Department of Transportation contract crews plan to close a short section of the eastbound lanes of I-24 and state Highway 237 (Rossview Road) to prepare for bridge removal, said a TDOT news release. During the closure, I-24 eastbound traffic will be restricted to one lane and use the on- and off-ramps at Rossview Road as a detour. TDOT says that, starting Friday, May 15, at 8 p.m. and continuing through Monday, May 18, at 5 a.m., the eastbound lanes of I-24 and the state Highway 237 bridge over I-24 will be closed.
The civil battle over erasing the Civil War names of three Memphis parks spread to the Tennessee Court of Appeals on Tuesday, with judges peppering both sides with a dozen questions. Judges Arnold B. Goldin, J. Steven Stafford and Brandon O. Gibson engaged with attorneys for 30 minutes. The panel could take several months to decide whether to uphold or overturn last summer’s Shelby County Chancery Court victory for the City of Memphis. The City Council in February 2013 passed resolutions to rename Jefferson Davis Park on Riverside, Confederate Park on Front and Bedford Forrest Park on Union at Manassas. The city has temporarily given them vanilla names — Mississippi River Park, Memphis Park and Health Sciences Park — until permanent ones are chosen.
Despite repeatedly reporting the nature of a records request that ultimately showed Tennessee paid nearly $5.8 million on lawmaker health care premiums since 2008, some lawmakers, the state employees union and others continue to accuse The Tennessean of asking the state for personal medical information. “The Tennessean has never requested personal health care information about lawmakers or state employees regarding our coverage of Insure Tennessee. We have requested how much taxpayers pay for lawmakers to have state health insurance,” said Maria De Varenne, news director of The Tennessean. “The number of incorrect, uninformed statements and lies is astounding. Voters should expect and demand honesty and leadership from lawmakers, not duplicity.”
A bill passed by Tennessee lawmakers could give parents of severely disabled children more than $6,000 a year to spend on education and therapies that they choose, though critics say the measure hands the money to parents with few safeguards. Traditional vouchers give families whose children attend poor-performing public schools a way to pay for private schools. A measure in that vein failed this year, but lawmakers did approve the program for disabled children, giving parents much more freedom to determine how to spend the money. It is not clear if Gov. Bill Haslam will sign the bill into law. The money, a combination of state and local funds, could be used for private school tuition, approved therapies and tutoring.
The group that represents state workers is condemning the release of details about the health insurance provided to state lawmakers. The Tennessee State Employees Association accuses The Tennessean of trying to “disgrace” and “publicly shaming” legislators by publishing a breakdown of how much their health insurance coverage has cost the state since 2008. Overall, the plans total nearly $5.8 million. The disclosure came after the General Assembly twice defeated Gov. Bill Haslam’s health care plan, Insure Tennessee. The Tennessean has published information on all 132 legislators but articles have focused on the plan’s opponents, including state Rep. Glenn Casada, R-Franklin, and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga. The newspaper reported that even Gardenhire’s college-age son was put on the state plan, a benefit allowed under the Affordable Care Act.
Vanderbilt University is scheduled to release the latest findings of its twice yearly public opinion poll in Tennessee on Wednesday. The survey of 1,000 registered voters includes questions on Gov. Bill Haslam’s failed proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans, abortion, same-sex marriage and marijuana policy. It also gauges the popularity of various political leaders in Tennessee. The poll is conducted just before the start of the legislative session and again after it ends. The goal is to see how closely the results of the legislative session match voters’ expectations and priorities. In the last poll in November, more than half of respondents supported expanding Medicaid in Tennessee, but state lawmakers in this year’s session twice rejected Haslam’s proposals to do so.
City schools need safety measures to protect students because of the state’s new guns-in-parks law, officials said Tuesday night at the Murfreesboro City School Board meeting. “I just don’t think guns have a place around children,” Nancy Rainier, board vice chair, said during the discussion about guns in parks. Board members discussed possible safety options for students after members heard a report about the new state law from Kelley Baker, an attorney for the city of Murfreesboro. Schools Director Linda Gilbert suggested the district consider buying signs to be kept on buses and used on field trips to alert the public to the nearby children and the weapons ban that would surround them.
Hamilton County School Superintendent Rick Smith was at Soddy-Daisy High School on Tuesday night for the 11th and final stop of his countywide tour to drum up public support for a $34 million annual increase to the public school system’s budget. Smith will be at the historic Hamilton County Courthouse on May 20, when he’ll present his budget proposal to the county mayor and commissioners, who control the schools’ purse strings and will decide whether to approve Smith’s proposed 40-cent property tax increase, or $150 annually for a $150,000 home. Smith mentioned that it was his twin daughters’ birthday Tuesday, and one of them, Hilary, works as a counselor at The Howard School, a predominantly black Chattanooga high school that once took low-income students from nine public housing projects.
The team behind the proposed redevelopment of the long-vacant Tennessee Brewery received a 20-year tax freeze and a long-term loan for a new parking garage to help usher the Downtown development along, but officials say much work remains before the $28.1 million project becomes a reality. The development team, 495 Tennessee LLC, won approval Tuesday, May 12, for a 20-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes incentive from the Center City Revenue Finance Corp., the financing arm of the Downtown Memphis Commission. The CCRFC also agreed to up to nearly $5.2 million in financing for a 339-space public parking garage. But even with the incentives, redeveloping the historic stone and cast iron brewery, which opened in 1890 and has been vacant since 1953, presents challenges, according to the developers and Downtown officials.
Mayor Karl Dean listed education first among his top three priorities for Nashville when he gave his final State of Metro speech on April 30. He could not have been more right. It is a sentiment echoed by people across the spectrum of politics and professions. Educators, elected officials, business leaders, community activists and others would agree, even if their tactics, approaches and opinions on best practices might differ. Much has happened in the way of education news this year.
While the goal of K-12 school reform is admirable, there are a number of unintended consequences that keep some public school systems from operating at their highest level of effectiveness. The measure of test scores Among the many responsibilities public schools face on a daily basis, one reigns over all: the passing of knowledge and the development of academic and intellectual skills as measured by test scores. This is the only function of schools that gets measured and the only function that matters in the eyes of those who have created the standards today. Even if a school masters all of its other responsibilities, such as instilling social values, teaching financial literacy and providing a safe harbor for neglected children, it still won’t be considered a successful institution unless it has mastered standardized testing. This obsession with test scores is unfortunate. What many don’t realize is that raising the bar and increasing standards won’t change the average intelligence in America.
It’s egregious enough that lawmakers failed to have a proper debate about the merits of Insure Tennessee during their recently ended legislative session. What’s worse is that several key lawmakers wanted to suppress information about their own taxpayer-subsidized health insurance coverage. No doubt, the news that Tennessee paid $5.85 million since 2008 for legislators’ coverage was embarrassing because these politicians made little effort to provide health insurance for working poor residents of this state. Lawmakers themselves paid $1.4 million in premiums. This in spite of the fact that there was a serious plan negotiated by Gov. Bill Haslam before them. It would not have been a traditional Medicaid expansion, and it would have used money from the federal government — more than $1 billion to date — that Tennessee taxpayers have paid.