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May 11 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Signs Law Waiving ‘No Child Left Behind’ (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today signed the piece of his 2012 legislative agenda that redefines school accountability in the state and waives Tennessee from portions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Surrounded by educators from across the state and students, Haslam also announced more than $37 million in federal grants for three school districts to assist in their efforts to turn around low-performing schools.

Haslam signs bill waiving Tennessee from No Child Left Behind (Nooga)

In a ceremony at a Nashville school Thursday, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill putting into effect Tennessee’s waiver from federal No Child Left Behind standards. The bill comes 10 months after state officials announced they would pursue exemption from Adequate Yearly Progress standards put in place by the decade-old law. Along with 10 other states across the country, Tennessee’s waiver was approved by the Department of Education in February.

Haslam Signs Law to Replace NCLB Standards Under Waiver (WPLN-Radio Nash)

Governor Bill Haslam signed off Thursday on changes to Tennessee’s education standards under a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. WPLN’s Daniel Potter reports on how the state is replacing the federal rules. Many Tennessee schools would’ve failed under the federal benchmarks, unless they made double-digit gains in math and reading each year. Instead, the state will now require a more realistic 3 to 5 percent improvement.

Governor Signs School Accountability Legislation (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam signed a piece of legislation on Thursday that redefines school accountability and waives Tennessee from the federal No Child Left Behind law. He also announced more than $37 million in federal grants for three school districts to help them turn around low-performing schools. The waiver, which was approved in January by the U.S. Department of Education, required changes to state law and was approved by the legislature earlier this year.

Haslam signs legislation bringing Tennessee out from federal NCLB (TFP)

Gov. Bill Haslam today signed into law his legislative initiative that redefines school accountability and brings the state out from the federal No Child Left Behind law. The governor also announced some $37 million in federal grants designed to help local education districts turn around troubled schools, primarily in Nashville and Memphis. Hamilton County, however, will only see $600,000, which the school system will use to planning to create a similar “innovation zone.”

Haslam officially ends No Child Left Behind in Tennessee (WRCB-TV Memphis)

Governor Bill Haslam officially ended Tennessee’s participation in the federal “No Child Left Behind” program Thursday. The governor sign into a bill that will give the state a way around the federal rules that had been signed into law by President Bush and took effect nationwide in 2002. Acting on the request of several governors, last year President Obama granted waivers to ten states, including Tennessee, provided they develop their own educational standards to meet the stated goals of the NCLB legislation.

Memphis schools to get federal funds to boost performance (CA/Roberts, Locker)

Seven Memphis schools received a $14.8 million infusion of federal money Thursday to make systemic change, starting with a longer school day and more technology to boost student performance. The schools are Chickasaw Middle, Fairley Elementary, Ford Road Elementary, Geeter Middle, Hamilton Middle, Lucy E. Campbell Elementary and Magnolia Elementary. They are part of newly formed “Innovation Zones” in Memphis and Nashville where the state is pouring resources into elementary and middle schools, hoping extra teachers and technology will lift the 12 high schools they feed.

Hamilton County misses out on a multimillion-dollar schools grant (TFP/Sher)

Hamilton County school officials’ attempt to win a multimillion-dollar grant for helping as many as seven failing schools didn’t make the grade on Thursday. But Gov. Bill Haslam said the system still will get $600,000 to do better planning and try again this fall to get funding for an “innovation zone” to support the schools. “Hamilton County is getting planning money, and when their innovation zone gets in place, then they’ll be eligible for more funding,” he said. The Nashville and Memphis school systems received about $27 million.

Governor Haslam Signs Bill Against Prescription Drug Abuse (WCYB-TV J. City)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is set to sign a prescription drug bill today in Clinton, Tennessee. The legislation was part of Haslam’s 2012 legislative agenda and came from the Public Safety Action plan announced in early January. The action plan is a comprehensive, multi-agency plan designed to improve public safety statewide. The bill, among other things, requires all prescribers and dispensers to register with the controlled substance monitoring database.

Haslam to sign prescription drug bill Friday (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Friday, Governor Bill Haslam will be in East Tennessee to sign the prescription drug bill into law. It’s part of his 2012 legislative agenda, and came from the Public Safety Action Plan announced in January. The plan is a comprehensive, multi-agency plan designed to improve public safety statewide. The bill, among other things, requires all prescribers and dispensers to register with a drug monitoring database.

Haslam Opts Not to Sign Resolution Against Agenda 21 (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam has chosen not to go along with conservative lawmakers in condemning an international environmental program. Tennessee’s House and Senate both voted overwhelmingly to oppose the United Nations sustainability blueprint called Agenda 21. Haslam left the resolution unsigned. The legislature’s resolution essentially attacks Agenda 21 as a global conspiracy to seize power, under the veneer of environmentalism. Haslam quietly chose not to sign on.

Vanderbilt Should Voluntarily End ‘All Comers’ Policy: Haslam (TN Report)

People are right to condemn Vanderbilt University for concocting an anti-discrimination policy that seems prejudiced against students seeking to assemble with others who share their religious beliefs, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Thursday. But Haslam said he still plans to veto a controversial bill the state Legislature passed recently that prohibits public colleges from enacting so-called “all comers” rules that require groups using campus facilities to accept as members and leaders anyone who expresses interest in joining, regardless of whether they embrace the group’s mission and values.

TN state government jobs feel pinch (Tennessean/Sisk)

Some workers have been reassigned; more cuts loom About 1,000 state workers have been given the ax since Gov. Bill Haslam took office in January 2011, and only a few have so far been reassigned to new positions, according to a Tennessean review of state records. The Haslam administration’s campaign pledge to squeeze savings out of state government and improve service has resulted in plans to cut payrolls within Tennessee’s 22 departments by more than 2,200 jobs.

Haslam signs bills toughening standards for receiving benefits (TN/Wilson)

Three measures tightening eligibility standards for people to receive state unemployment benefits was signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam Wednesday. The series of bills, centered around a bill called the Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act, makes it more difficult for individuals fired with cause to receive benefits. It also requires unemployment recipients to apply for at least three jobs every week or go to a local career center and then submit detailed information to verify these applications.

TN Tightens Rules on Unemployment Benefits (TN Report)

After almost a year of Republican lawmakers complaining that the state’s unemployment system is too lax, Gov. Bill Haslam is signing three bills into law that stiffen rules for people seeking benefit checks. The bills come as the state’s unemployment rate drops below the 8.2 percent national average to 7.9 percent after skyrocketing into double digits with most of the nation during the peak of the economic recession.

Haslam gives support to American Heart Association effort (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Gov. Bill Haslam ended a speech with a very personal story today at the American Heart Association Executive Breakfast, an annual event that doesn’t typically involve Tennessee’s highest elected official. He recalled getting a message in his high school math class at age 16 that he needed to go home. “I found out that my mother, who was a very young 42, had laid down to take a nap that day, hadn’t woken up and had a stroke and died,” Haslam said.

Haslam, Ramsey oppose Obama stance on same-sex marriage (TFP/Sher)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he disagrees with President Barack Obama’s new stance in support of same-sex marriage. “I’ve said before, that’s not my view on the issue,” Haslam said. “I think it seems like the president has changed over a period of time. It’s his right to do so, but that’s not a position I’m in favor of.” Republican state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey agreed, recalling a Senate floor debate on the issue in which one lawmaker argued “a circle is a circle and a square is a square and no matter what you do, you can’t make a circle a square.”

Haslam Proclaims May Foster Care Month (WNWS-Radio)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has proclaimed May “Foster Care Month,” joining other states and organizations across the country in saluting foster parents and encouraging others to takes steps to serve children in the year ahead. “Family is the crucible of a child’s life,” said Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kathryn O’Day. “Children must live in a safe, stable, and loving family in order to develop properly. When a child’s own family is unable to care for them, foster families are a lifeline for them. During Foster Care Month, we salute the thousands of Tennesseans who open their home to foster children, and at the same time we draw attention to the need for more foster families across our state.”

Governor Haslam proclaims May 11 Military Spouse Day (Leaf Chronicle)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and state Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced May 11, 2012 is Military Spouse Day. The day of recognition for military spouses is observed throughout the country to include Tennessee. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed a day of observance to recognize and honor the contributions and sacrifices of military spouses.

“Grading” the new TN teacher evaluation system (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

On the same day Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation that waives portions of the “No Child Left Behind Law” in Tennessee, local educators and community members discussed the state’s own reform system that helped get that waiver. Thursday night, University of Tennessee public radio station WUOT hosted a forum called “Making the Grade: Tennessee’s Teacher Evaluations.” The discussion explored possible changes to the evaluation system, and its impact on East Tennessee schools.

TN fatality board a warning to motorists, distraction to some (Tennessean/Young)

State Department of Transportation posting number on overhead electronic message boards to save lives To combat the rising death toll on Tennessee roads, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has begun posting the total fatality count along the interstates on overhead electronic message boards as a warning to slow down and be careful. It’s a move that some Nashville residents are applauding, but others call a distraction. By Monday, the number had risen to at least 331.

Fire school graduation Friday (Times-Gazette)

Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak will deliver the commencement address to the recruit firefighter class 9 a.m. Friday at the Tennessee Fire Service and Codes Enforcement Academy on Unionville-Deason Road. As TDCI Commissioner, McPeak also is the State Fire Marshal. “I’m proud of these graduates, and I’m honored to play a role in the start of their careers in fire service,” she said.

Erin woman charged with TennCare drug fraud (Leaf Chronicle)

A Houston County woman is charged with TennCare fraud for selling prescription drugs paid for by TennCare. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) today announced the arrest of Carrie Dianne Adams, 50, of Erin, after a joint investigation with the 23rd Judicial District Drug Task Force and the Houston County Sheriff’s Office. Adams has been charged with one count of TennCare fraud for using TennCare to obtain a prescription for the painkiller Hydrocodone, later meeting with a confidential informant and selling a portion of the drugs.

New Illegal Drug On Streets Paid For With Tax Dollars (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Pharmaceutical drugs now top more typical street drugs like marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine in sales and there is a new breed of dealer, according to police. “A lot of these pills are being sold illegally on the street and are being paid for by our tax money,” said Maury county assistant district attorney Brent Cooper. Cooper said they recently made thirty pill arrests and twenty of those arrested are on Tenncare or Medicare and some of those were selling their own prescription pills.

Parent report cards tested because ‘schools can’t do it alone’ (AP/Johnson)

Contracts, evaluations fall under new legislative efforts, including TN Educators exasperated by the need for greater parent involvement have persuaded Tennessee lawmakers to sign off on a novel bit of arm-twisting: Asking parents to grade themselves on report cards. Another Tennessee measure signed into law recently will create parent contracts that give them step-by-step guidelines for pitching in. The report card bill — which would initially apply to two struggling schools — passed the legislature, and the governor has said he is likely to sign it.

The Religious Battle of Vanderbilt (Wall Street Journal)

Booting Christian groups from campus—all in the name of ‘nondiscrimination.’ Last week, Tennessee legislators sent a message to Vanderbilt University: Religious liberty matters. Large majorities in both houses passed a bill to prohibit the school from interfering in the ability of student groups to select their own leaders and members, define their own doctrines and resolve their own disputes—or Vanderbilt risks losing $24 million in state funding.

Chamber endorses Dean’s property tax hike (City Paper)

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors has voiced its support for Mayor Karl Dean’s property tax hike, one week before the plan heads to the Metro Council for its first of three votes. “We applaud Mayor Dean for making the necessary spending cuts over the past four years in order to avoid raising taxes during the economic downturn,” Bert Mathews, who chairs the chamber’s board of directors, said in an endorsement statement.

Rogero trims community grants slightly in budget (News-Sentinel/Witt)

The $10,000 city grant, if approved, would help the Clarence Brown Theatre stage a production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” Another $8,500 grant proposal for Hola Hora Latina, a nonprofit that works to connect Latinas and the Knoxville community, would help them grow. “One thing that has been mentioned is trying to offer Spanish classes for the community,” said Lisa Schohl, who manages the office at Hola Hora Latina.

Image, growth issues challenge Antioch (Tennessean/Allyn)

Booming rural community looks to beat bad rap, create new identity In many ways, the community concerns of Antioch resident and local pastor Keith Vincent are the same ones the entire neighborhood is trying to overcome. “The negative perception of the area is big,” Vincent says. “And money’s not being spent in our community.” Antioch, once a remote town that sprang from a country church congregation before its commercial hub flourished then sputtered, has a population that has grown four times faster than Davidson County’s annual 10 percent growth rate of the past decade.

Normandy post office saved (Times-Gazette)

The U.S. Postal Service announced a plan Wednesday that will keep the Normandy post office and other rural facilities open, but with reduced hours. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe stated that the agency is backing off its plan to close up to 3,700 low-revenue post offices, a list that included the location in the small Bedford County village. Reduced services Citing strong community opposition, Donahoe said the agency will now whittle down full-time staff but maintain a part-time post office presence in rural areas, with access to retail lobbies and post office boxes.

ORNL recruits the world, but UT supplies home-grown talent (N-S/Munger)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory recruits scientific talent from around the globe, but more lab researchers received their doctorate degrees from nearby University of Tennessee than anyplace else. By a large margin. More than 1,000 lab staff members hold doctorates and — at the News-Sentinel’s request — ORNL broke down the information on where they earned those advanced degrees.

Wacker Polysilicon ramping up Bradley County workforce (Times Free-Press/Pare)

Wacker Polysilicon has identified about half of its workforce so far as it looks to reach the 650-employee mark within the next 18 months. Erika Burk, the plant’s human resources director, said it has hired 220 people and extended offers to another 115. The company, which is building a $1.8 billion factory in Bradley County, Tenn., targeting the solar industry, is wooing new high school graduates, she said.

La-Z-Boy seeks help to expand Dayton, Tenn., plant (Times Free-Press/Davis)

La-Z-Boy Tennessee expects to add 40 jobs at its Dayton operation if the Rhea County Commission will purchase a piece of property and lease it to the company, commissioners were told this week. County Executive George Thacker said he had been working with La-Z-Boy officials and representatives of the state and the Tennessee Valley Authority to arrange the deal, which will provide a site for a company-owned trucking operation.

Company could bring 240 jobs to Kingsport (Times-News)

Over the past three weeks, Kingsport officials have been meeting with representatives from an automobile parts company that is considering locating a new manufacturing plant in the Model City that could create up to 240 jobs. Mayor Dennis Phillips, who met with the representatives on Thursday, called the prospect the most impressive situation he has seen since being elected mayor of Kingsport.

USDA predicts record corn harvest (Associated Press)

Consumers could see some relief from higher food prices by late fall, if the latest government crop forecast holds up. The U.S. Agriculture Department predicted Thursday that corn production will total a record 14.8 billion bushels. That compares with 12.4 billion bushels a year ago and it’s 11 percent higher than the previous record crop in 2009. The government also predicts a record yield of 166 bushels per acre.

Transition panel plans evaluations to focus on effective teachers (CA/Roberts)

Teachers in the unified school district should expect to be at the top of their craft or taking serious steps to get there, based on guidelines heard Thursday by the group planning how the schools will work. While members of the Transition Planning Commission’s HR/personnel committee say they want a fair, respectful process for evaluating teachers, they see no reason to keep teachers whose jobs have been eliminated, or to keep teachers who are not scoring at least a 3 on 1-5 scale.

Teacher Surplusing Would Go In Schools Merger Recommendation (M. Daily News)

The schools consolidation planning commission is weighing a set of recommendations for teacher hiring, retention and evaluation that would do away with the practice of surplusing teachers. The recommendations from the group’s human resources committee presented Thursday, May 10, include “not guaranteeing jobs to teachers whose positions have been eliminated.” Under current Memphis City Schools procedures, when a teacher’s position is eliminated at a school or the teacher is not retained at that school, their seniority can allow them to “bump” another teacher at another school if the teachers without a position has more seniority.

Hamilton County Schools budget meets little resistance (Times Free-Press/Haman)

Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith headed off possible critics when he presented this year’s $330.8 million general purpose budget request to county commissioners. “At this time we are presenting a budget with a request for no additional revenue,” he stated moments after he stepped to the podium Thursday. He explained that the proposed budget would fully fund capital maintenance and restore $500,000 from $1.5 million cut from the maintenance budget last year.

Disney donates to TPAC, area schools (Tennessean)

The Tennessee Performing Arts Center is getting a $75,000 grant from Disney to offer theater in local after school programs. TPAC officials applied for the grant last year and say Nashville is the second city to get funding, outside of New York City. It’s aimed at giving low-income students in urban, public schools equal access to the arts. They are: Glengarry, Hattie Cotton, Hull-Jackson, Kirkpatrick and Percy Priest elementaries.

Low Scores on Science Test Revive Concerns (Wall Street Journal)

U.S. eighth graders made modest gains on the latest national science exam, but more than two-thirds still lacked a solid grasp of science facts, according to figures released Thursday that renewed concerns American schools are inadequately preparing children for college and the workforce. The 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, an exam administered by the U.S. Department of Education, showed that 32% of students were proficient in science, compared with 30% the first time the new version of the science exam was administered, in 2009.

New Jersey: New Jersey’s Waiver Wars (Stateline)

Buried under seven snowstorms in rapid succession, New Jersey communities faced a crisis in January 2011: where to put all the snow that was blocking roads, parking lots, and front doors. Because of the state’s strict environmental regulations, dumping the snow in rivers and streams was “not a routinely acceptable management option,” according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Students need their parents to be involved (Jackson Sun)

We agree with Gov. Bill Haslam that the spirit behind legislation passed this year to increase parent involvement in education is “100 percent right.” But, like the governor, we want to see how it is implemented. Nearly everyone agrees that parent involvement in a child’s education is critical to school success. Teachers long have pleaded for more parent involvement. With tougher education standards to meet, teachers again are saying they can’t do it alone.

Editorial: Budget cuts make elderly hunger worse (Tennessean)

How is it that America has become a country that turns its back on the most vulnerable members of its population? Hunger among low-income elderly Americans is on the rise, and may get much worse if some lawmakers get their way. A “Senior Hunger Report Card” released May 3 by the Meals On Wheels Research Foundation found that 8.3 million — more than one in seven — seniors nationwide faced the threat of hunger in 2010.

Editorial: Area can’t afford to let economic momentum stall (News-Sentinel)

Forbes magazine has named Knoxville the nation’s sixth best mid-sized city for job growth, which adds to the mounting evidence that the city’s recovery from the Great Recession is gaining momentum. The release of the Forbes rankings on Tuesday comes on the heels of Chief Executive magazine’s designation of Tennessee as the fourth most business-friendly state in the country. Those rankings, coupled with an unemployment rate that continues to drop, can only be viewed as positive developments for Knoxville and Knox County.

Free-Press Editorial: A bailout success? (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

There seems to be confusion about whether Congress’ multibillion-dollar bailout of the auto industry worked. It didn’t. Supporters of the bailout — made necessary by poor management, unsustainable union contracts and other factors — cite the fact that companies such as General Motors still are cranking out vehicles. But they conveniently gloss over the ongoing costs of the bailout. Taxpayers involuntarily hemorrhaged almost $50 billion into GM to save it, and they were saddled with 60 percent ownership of the company in mid-2009.

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