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March 17 TN News Digest

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

 

Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor (New York Times)

Most low-income students who have top test scores and grades do not even apply to the nation’s best colleges, according to a new analysis of every high school student who took the SAT in a recent year. The pattern contributes to widening economic inequality and low levels of mobility in this country, economists say, because college graduates earn so much more on average than nongraduates do. Low-income students who excel in high school often do not graduate from the less selective colleges they attend.

MTSU narrows business dean search (Daily News Journal)

The Jennings A. Jones College of Business at Middle Tennessee State University is within a week or two of learning who its next dean will be. “We brought in three finalists, and President (Sidney) McPhee and I accepted evaluations about the three candidates from faculty and staff,” said Brad Bartel, provost at MTSU. “We anticipate making an announcement within the next two weeks.” Jim Burton informed McPhee and his staff and faculty last year that he would be stepping down as dean at the end of this academic year.

State laws supersede local rules (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

While state lawmakers often gripe about federal intrusiveness on state matters, they don’t seem to have a problem with telling local governments what — or what not — to do. From overriding municipal bans on switchblades to overruling local school boards on charter school approvals, GOP supermajorities in Tennessee’s House and Senate are pushing a number of measures aimed at restricting city and county actions.Democrats call Republicans hypocritical for pushing around cities, counties and other local entities while condemning Uncle Sam for the same thing every time a microphone is near.

10 on House committee got donations from liquor industry (Tennessean/Sisk)

Liquor store owners, distributors and the beer industry gave about $25,000 to members of the House Local Government Committee, according to campaign finance records reviewed earlier this month by the Associated Press. The liquor industry remained a major contributor to lawmakers’ campaigns in the recent two-year election cycle, the AP found, even though House Speaker Beth Harwell reorganized the Local Government Committee and did not announce who would sit on it until shortly after the legislative session began.

Renewed push for pre-K provokes fresh debates (Tennessean/Sisk)

An effort to get 4-year-olds ready for school may be about to receive a fresh push from the federal government, but it faces stiff resistance from Republicans in Tennessee. Pre-kindergarten — a preschool program designed primarily for poor children and paid for by taxpayers — appears to be rising to the forefront of the education debate. President Barack Obama says making pre-K available to more children will be one of the top priorities of his second term. He says the program can produce benefits decades down the road.

Memphis, Shelby Co. officials seek to continue emissions inspections (CA/Charlier)

Having been warned of “significant negative consequences” if motor vehicle emissions are no longer tested, Memphis and Shelby County leaders plan to discuss ways to keep the local inspection program operating — possibly through the establishment of a countywide air-quality fee. Memphis Mayor AC Wharton and county CAO Harvey Kennedy said in interviews late last week that the discussions will focus on heading off federal sanctions — including growth-killing restrictions on industrial discharges and a loss of highway funds — that could result if the testing of emissions ends on June 30.

TBI opposes local lawmaker’s bill to limit use of drones (Times News)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation opposes legislation that would curtail law enforcement using drones in criminal investigations. State Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, has filed a “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act” scheduled to be considered Wednesday by a House Civil Justice Subcommittee. Van Huss, a military veteran, did not respond to an email and phone call about why he filed the bill. The bill would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using drones to gather evidence or other information, but there are exceptions.

THE SUNDAY Q&A: Rep. Mike Sparks not afraid to speak his mind (DNJ)

Mike Sparks was a bit of a maverick as a Rutherford County commissioner, and he’s taking that same philosophy to the Tennessee General Assembly as a state representative. The Republican from Smyrna contends he doesn’t look at legislation through partisan eyes and he’s not afraid to go against his counterparts or to gig Gov. Bill Haslam, if necessary. Sparks sat down with The Daily News Journal Friday to discuss the legislative session and some of his bills.

Obama overtures fall short with state GOP (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Deep into President Barack Obama’s hourlong visit with House Republicans on Wednesday, someone stated the obvious: “Nobody in this room voted for you.” The freshly re-elected chief executive paused and pondered the Capitol Hill hostility for a moment “Well,” he said, “I voted for myself.” “Some other guys and I got a good chuckle out of that,” said U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, a Republican from Johnson City, Tenn. “At least he had one supporter there.” A light moment to be sure, but the exchange illustrates the serious gap between all parties even after Obama’s separate goodwill sessions with Senate Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Republicans and House Democrats.

DesJarlais taps Congress for fundraiser; one host balks (Tennessean/Sisk)

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is turning to his colleagues in Congress for help in raising money for his re-election campaign, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The South Pittsburg Republican has planned a fundraiser March 19 in Washington, D.C. Tickets to the event are $500 for individuals and $1,000 for political action committees. The event would appear to circumvent one of the big problems DesJarlais faces — that much of the Republican establishment is already behind state Sen. Jim Tracy and to a lesser extent state Rep. Joe Carr.

Blackburn’s dependence on PACs growing over course of career (Gannett/Barton)

Since coming to Congress a decade ago, Rep. Marsha Blackburn has become increasingly dependent on special-interest political action committee money to stay in office. And her recent promotion to vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee promises to make her even more of a magnet for such contributions. Blackburn’s committee position is the most influential of any held by the Tennessee’s delegation in the House of Representatives.

Smyrna Airport urges help to keep its tower (Daily News Journal)

Without action by the U.S. Senate or House to save federal funding, Smyrna Airport expects to lose its air traffic control tower service on April 7. “The cessation of funding is necessary for the Federal Aviation Administration to implement the budget sequestration that took effect on March 1,” said John Black, executive director for the Smyrna /Rutherford County Airport Authority. “As part of their budget they decided to cut out 72 percent of the contract tower program which they fund.” He has been notifying others about the critical need to contact U. S. senators and congressmen to avert the tower’s closure.

Must voters have to prove citizenship to register? (AP/Holland, Billeaud)

The Supreme Court will struggle this week with the validity of an Arizona law that tries to keep illegal immigrants from voting by demanding all state residents show documents proving their U.S. citizenship before registering to vote in national elections. The high court will hear arguments Monday over the legality of Arizona’s voter-approved requirement that prospective voters document their citizenship in order to use a registration form produced under the federal “Motor Voter” voter registration law that doesn’t require such documentation.

Despite high unemployment, Scott County keeps sense of hope (NS/Harrington)

David Dougherty never intended to get into the pizza business, but for more than 25 years, the 42-year-old Scott County native has made a career of it. It hasn’t always been easy, especially with the downturn in the economy, he said. The owner of Firehouse Pizza had to close two of his three businesses last year — a second pizza eatery that would have been in its sixth year and a 4-year-old video/tanning store.Sales are beginning to pick up, but Dougherty said only time will tell if it will last or if it’s a result of tax refunds.

Nashville music industry shifting away from Music Row (Tennessean/White)

The house at the corner of 16th Avenue South and Tremont Street has served Mary Hilliard Harrington well for six years. From that post in the Music Row neighborhood, she has watched as her company, The Green Room PR, a music industry-focused public relations firm, has tripled in size and come to count Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean and Dierks Bentley as clients. But the little house has become restrictive as The Green Room has grown. So Harrington is trading in the quaint office space next month for a contrasting view of exposed brick, high ceilings and an open floor plan.

Rocketship’s Nashville charter schools may fall short on diversity (TN/Fingeroot)

The California charter school company approved by the state to put new schools in Nashville gets high performance marks from education leaders, but its stated mission could run afoul of a diversity policy aimed at charter schools. Adam Nadeau, the Nashville native tapped to be the local director of Rocketship Education, called the concern “legitimate,” but he said the intent is to be colorblind.

Out of the office and into the classroom (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

These days, the principal’s office is likely the last place you’ll find a school principal. That’s because they’re spending more of the school day in the classroom, closely observing, critiquing and coaching teachers on their methods. New accountability models, heightened standards and changed evaluation schemes are not only making the principal’s job more complex, but also are forging an entirely different focus for the job.No longer is the principal’s role here believed to be one of mainly discipline and management.

McIntyre requesting ‘conservative’ budget for next year (News-Sentinel/McCoy)

The largest part of Knox County School Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s budget proposal would give the district’s nearly 4,000 teachers a 2.5 percent raise, which would be paid out in two increments. “We’ve talked a lot about how we really aren’t competitive in terms of average teacher salaries in the region, and we want to make sure we make progress on that front,” McIntyre said. “If we add 1 percent to whatever the typical increase is that the state proposes each of the next three or four years, then we really begin to make some progress and being more competitive with some of the other school districts in our area.

Merging Sullivan County communities may be harder than merging schools (T-N)

Although the merger of Sullivan North and Sullivan South high schools into one school in August of 2014 isn’t a done deal yet, it is a major step closer because of a recommendation of the school system head. So if the Board of Education at a called meeting March 28 approves Director of Schools Jubal Yennie’s Thursday recommendation for the merger for 2014-15, just how does the school system merge two schools that have existed at opposite ends of the greater Kingsport community for more than 32 years?

 

OPINION

Guest column: Haslam has a huge decision on Medicaid (Commercial Appeal)

Unfortunately, poverty is widespread in each of Tennessee’s Grand Divisions. Tennessee spans 440 miles from one end to the other and is home to 6.4 million people, ranging across all demographics. From the mountains of East Tennessee to the Cumberland Plateau to the rural counties of Middle Tennessee to urban areas like Memphis and Shelby County with high concentrations of poverty, Tennessee is home to nearly 1 million people who are uninsured. These Tennesseans are uninsured because of coverage gaps and pre-existing diseases, or they are the working poor who can’t afford health insurance.

Scott McNutt: Tennessee could become crazy legislation exporter (Tennessean)

This session, the Tennessee General Assembly’s output of insane bills may become the jobs-producing legislation the lawmakers thus far have failed to produce. The state legislators’ batty bill creation has been so prodigious the past few sessions, other states are looking to Tennessee to supplement their own absurd, offensive lawmaking, and Gov. Bill Haslam sees a potential windfall in their interest. Haslam’s staff learned that, for a bill Arizona Republican Rep. Judy Burges introduced in her state this year, she borrowed language from Knoxville Republican Rep. Bill Dunn’s successful 2012 “academic freedom” legislation.

Tom Humphrey: Coordination would make visits to Capitol more productive (NS)

A time-honored ritual for the lords and ladies of Legislatorland is welcoming various groups of common citizens to the state castle, um, Capitol for a Day On The Hill, wherein they are granted audiences with the elected nobility to present grievances, pay homage and raise awareness. It can be quite a spectacle as the Day On The Hill (DOTH) folks mix with other, less-organized common citizens wearing frowns or smiles — and bumper sticker slogans affixed to their chests — supporting or opposing some proposed law of the land, generally bored schoolchildren getting a dose of civics education and the everyday inhabitants of Legislatorland, lobbyists trying to influence the elected nobility and staffers trying to serve them.

Editorial: Cost-cutters exaggerate the downside of pre-K (Tennessean)

Early education makes the most of fertile minds For too long, Tennessee children have lagged behind schoolkids in other states, and American children have lagged behind those in other developed countries in key areas of learning, including math and science. We often hear from political leaders that it’s time for reforms that will improve educational attainment in Tennessee, and that they have a plan to change things for the better, whether it’s teacher evaluations, revisions in core curricula or testing.

Guest columnist: Fracking foes use fiction, not facts (Tennessean)

A year ago, I wrote in an op-ed in this newspaper a detailed description of the drilling and completion process needed to put a shale gas or shale oil well into production. Still, the drumbeat of fear continues. People at church or the grocery store stop me with a worried expression to ask about fracking and water pollution. A refresher course seems in order. Fracking is not part of the drilling process. After the vertical and horizontal drilling reaches total depth, steel pipe is inserted and cement fills the space between the pipe and the bore hole, completely sealing off the shale from the freshwater table. Only then does fracking begin. 

Guest columnist: Ancestors fought for big goals, not park names (C. Appeal)

Perhaps William Faulkner was actually thinking of Memphis when he penned his often-quoted words, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In a year that will witness the second inauguration of our nation’s first African-American president, the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, some Memphians act as though the sacrifices of those earlier generations who made this year possible are best honored by fighting rear-guard actions over places, names and characters. Yes, Mr. Faulkner, a certain past is never dead in Memphis.

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