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November 30 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office. 

Tennessee ECD seeking input on $29.7 million INCITE program (M. Biz Journal)

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development has released draft program guidelines for the state’s new INCITE Co-Investment Fund. A PDF of the draft guidelines is available here.

Grant to help fund project (Seymour Herald)

Some Seymour residents can look forward to better water quality now that a federal grant has been approved for Sevier County. A $400,000 Community Development Block Grant has been approved by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty.

TN receives $1.5M grant to help establish Affordable Insurance Exchanges (NBJ)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced today that Tennessee is one of 13 states receiving a total of $220 million in grants to plan for new Affordable Insurance Exchanges. The exchanges were created by the Affordable Care Act, and are meant to serve as “one-stop marketplaces where consumers can choose a private health insurance plan,” as described in a press release today from HHS.

TNInvestco fund invests in Payment America (Nashville Business Journal)

Payment America Systems Inc. has received a growth investment and partial recapitalization from Council Capital and its affiliated TNInvestco program, Council & Enhanced Tennessee Fund. Payment America executives said the investment would allow it to take advantage of the “growing opportunity” in helping hospitals and physician offices manage payment operations.

Survey: States facing pressure from federal, local governments (Times-News)

State governments are facing a “big squeeze” from local governments and the federal government, according to a fiscal survey released Tuesday by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO). That squeeze, the survey suggested, will happen as states get less federal funds due to anticipated cuts while local governments attempt to look for state help to deal with declining local property values.

Springfield woman charged with TennCare fraud (Tennessean)

A Springfield woman was charged with two counts of TennCare fraud following an investigation by the Robertson County Sheriff’s Office and the Tennessee Office of the Inspector General. Ann M. Choate, 30, is accused of forging prescriptions for the painkiller Lortab on two separate occasions.

Lawmakers recommend halving some scholarships (Associated Press/Johnson)

A special legislative panel that recommends cutting some students’ college scholarships in half says the move could save Tennessee as much as $17 million a year. Members of the bipartisan Lottery Stabilization Task Force — comprised of lawmakers, the state’s constitutional officers and higher education officials — voted unanimously Tuesday to reduce by 50 percent the lottery scholarship awards for students who do not meet both the standardized testing and high school grade requirements.

Lottery Task Force Votes for Halving Some Scholarships (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A state task force has unanimously recommended cutting in half some Tennessee lottery scholarships. That’s meant to save millions while steering lower-scoring students toward community college instead of four-year schools.

Task force recommends halving HOPE awards (Tennessean/Sisk)

Lottery scholarships could be cut in half for students on the cusp of qualifying, under a plan approved Tuesday by a group of state lawmakers and education officials. The Senate Lottery Stabilization Task Force agreed unanimously to recommend a plan that would make high school students hit both ACT and grade point average benchmarks to receive a full HOPE scholarship or Aspire grant funded through the state lottery.

Senate panel OKs cuts to some Tennessee scholarships (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Thousands of future Tennessee high school graduates could see their lottery-funded college scholarships cut by 50 percent under recommendations approved Tuesday by the Senate’s Lottery Stabilization Task Force. The bipartisan group voted unanimously to recommend the changes, which Republicans argue are necessary to close a funding gap and keep the HOPE lottery scholarship program solvent.

$1 million remains for energy rebates in Tennessee (Associated Press)

More than $1 million remains for energy efficient appliance rebates in Tennessee. The money is for consumers who have upgraded to a qualifying Energy Star appliance since April 22, 2010.

State grant aims at cutting crime in targeted areas of Cleveland (TFP/Higgins)

A state grant helped rescue a child from molestation, police say. Dozens of agencies are taking part in the Tennessee Targeted Community Crime Reduction Grant programs. The $800,000 grant, in its second year, targets what police call Sectors One and Two, the south and east areas of Cleveland.

Libraries to share online library catalog (Associated Press)

About 100 public libraries across Tennessee will soon be sharing an online library catalog. The Tennessee State Library and Archives recently purchased a new electronic product, making it easier for libraries to use state-of-the-art computer technology to share resources.

Occupy Nashville billed $1,045 for security (Associated Press)

The state Department of General Services billed Occupy Nashville $1,045 to provide two troopers for security the night before they began arresting the protesters and clearing their encampment. The invoice was part of a public records request to the department from The Associated Press.

Fisk wins appeals court ruling in art case (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled that Nashville’s Fisk University can share its Stieglitz art collection with Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas. The court Tuesday also removed a rule by the trial court that would have required Fisk to put $20 million of the $30 million Crystal Bridges planned to pay for its share of the collection into an endowment to maintain the art.

Court validates Fisk’s Georgia O’Keeffe art-sharing deal (Tennessean/Haas)

Fisk University may get millions more in a deal to share an art collection featuring works of Georgia O’Keeffe after an appeals court ruled in the university’s favor. The university, as a means to raise funds, had initially hoped to sell some of the 101-piece Alfred Stieglitz collection, but later cut a $30 million sharing agreement with an Arkansas museum.

GOP Looks at Changes to Workers’ Comp, Regulatory Burdens (TN Report)

A handful of Tennessee Republicans are wrapping up their study of small businesses for the year, but they’re unsure how the fruits of their labor will turn into legislation in 2012. At the direction of House GOP leaders, a task force of 10 representatives has spent the last four months meeting with business owners across the state to figure out what would make the Volunteer State’s business environment more attractive.

Poverty surges among TN kids (Tennessean/Brooks)

One-fourth of Tennessee’s school-age children are poor Thanksgiving dinner, for some students at Maplewood High School, was served in the same place they got most of their other hot meals during the week — the school cafeteria.“They’ve helped us tremendously,” said Dorothy Lewis, mother of two Maplewood students, who lost her home and has turned to the school for help with everything from food and clothing for her teenagers to tutoring lessons for herself so she can help them with their homework.

School-age poverty rises in several counties across region (TFP/Haman)

Local educators began to suspect an increase in school-age poverty by watching cafeteria lunch lines. Social workers in aid agencies noticed an uptick in the number of families seeking food and holiday help. A U.S. Census Bureau report released Tuesday confirmed what those closest to school-age children have been seeing — poverty levels among those ages 5 to 17 are increasing.

Line Grows Long for Free Meals at U.S. Schools (New York Times)

Millions of American schoolchildren are receiving free or low-cost meals for the first time as their parents, many once solidly middle class, have lost jobs or homes during the economic crisis, qualifying their families for the decades-old safety-net program. The number of students receiving subsidized lunches rose to 21 million last school year from 18 million in 2006-7, a 17 percent increase, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data from the Department of Agriculture, which administers the meals program.

Fearful of potential abuse, officials seek review of audit hot line system (NS/Donila)

A drunken county mayor, ghost employees and sleepy workers. Callers have left all sorts of unfounded tips such as those this year on the county’s anonymous audit hot line, prompting officials to worry the line is leading to frivolous accusations and political abuse.

Memphis callers can soon dial 311 for more government info (C. Appeal/Locker)

When it’s time to vote in Memphis, numerous people call 911 to ask where they’re supposed to go to cast a ballot. Needless to say, that’s not what 911 is for.

Tomeka Hart Readies Launch of Congressional Race (Memphis Flyer)

9th District congressman Steve Cohen, whose three terms to date have generated impressive national attention, is apparently not going to avoid challenge in the Democratic primary from local Urban League head and School Board member Tomeka Hart. Hart, whose announced campaign had long been dormant, is finally on the move.

Tennessee’s Arnold center has $2 million upgrade (Associated Press)

The Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee has upgraded its Engine Data Acquisition and Processing System in what facility officials call a milestone. It was a $2 million, six-year project to develop new engine data sources for temperature and voltage measurements for turbine test cells.

Romney short on Tennessee endorsements (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Mitt Romney hasn’t bought himself much Tennessee love. Yet. Since 2002, Romney’s political action committees have given a combined $42,300 to the Volunteer State’s top GOP players, including both U.S. senators, Gov. Bill Haslam and six of Tennessee’s seven Republican U.S. representatives. But only one — U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan, a Republican from Knoxville and the dean of Tennessee’s congressional delegation — has endorsed the former governor of Massachusetts and two-time candidate for president this time around.

States get chance to experiment with child welfare systems (Stateline)

Devon, a 16-year old boy who lives in Clearwater, Florida, went into foster care when he was eight months old. He lived in a group home in his early teen-age years and was on track to stay there until he turned 18.

TVA Moves Forward with Plan to Avoid $30 Billion Debt Ceiling (WPLN-Radio)

TVA is moving ahead with plans to sell power plants as a way to generate cash and avoid its $30 billion debt ceiling. The country’s largest public utility would then lease its plants from a new owner and continue operating them.

Whirlpool urges quick resolution to road funding (Times Free-Press/Leach)

Whirlpool officials this week asked local leaders quickly to resolve the challenges to a road project associated with the company’s planned relocation to Benton Pike. Bradley County has struggled with how it will pay its share of the $2 million required from local governments to launch the project, which includes right-of-way acquisitions and upgrades to portions of Benton Pike, Durkee Road and Michigan Avenue.

School districts cooperating before merger (Commercial Appeal)

Public education in Memphis and Shelby County has taken a step that reinforces a spirit of cooperation and could save taxpayers some big dollars. In a story Sunday, Commercial Appeal reporter Zack McMillin detailed how Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools have agreed to share costs and operations for a comprehensive data management system.

School Board To Discuss Policy on School Sales (Memphis Daily News)

The countywide schools board is waiting on a plan for the merging of the two public school systems in Shelby County. But there are already indications the board of 23 will take up some ideas for common policies for both school systems before a plan arrives next summer from the consolidation planning commission.

State wades into Blount County charter school debate (News-Sentinel/Coleman)

Folks gathered at the Blount County Schools central office Tuesday afternoon appeared to have one of two opinions: the proposed HOPE Academy is either the best option to upgrade school system or a waste of $1.5 million from the budget. In August and again in September, the school board denied the application that would have created the state’s first charter STEM school in a suburban area.

Massachusetts: State Takes Over Lawrence Schools (New York Times)

The state board of education voted Tuesday to take over the Lawrence Public School system, an embattled district where fewer than half of students graduate from high school in four years. It is the first district to be taken into receivership after a 2010 law empowered the state board of education to take such action on “chronically underperforming” schools.

OPINION

Editorial: Tennessee public education reform goals must be realistic (Jackson Sun)

The Haslam administration’s goal of improving Tennessee public education students’ proficiency scores by 20 percent over the next five years is noteworthy. But it should come with a warning notice that says past attempts at such improvement have proven elusive, and are easier said than done.

Free-Press Editorial: VW a tonic for Chattanooga economy (Times Free-Press)

More than 2,500 employees. About $200 million in wages paid. Those numbers give a snapshot of the ongoing economic benefits that Chattanooga and our surrounding area are enjoying thanks to the massive Volkswagen plant at Enterprise South industrial park.

Editorial: Signs point to improved economy, job market (Daily News Journal)

The economy is showing signs of life as the 2011 holiday season begins. Just in time for Thanksgiving, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development issued statistics showing Rutherford County’s unemployment rate for October at 7.6 percent.

 

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