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May 18 TN News Digest

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

5K opens old Tennessee State Pen grounds (Tennessean)
More than 100 people were running around the old Tennessee State Penitentiary on Saturday morning, but it was nothing to worry about. There wasn’t a prison break. The state prison, which housed inmates until 1992, served as the site of the state Department of Corrections’ first-ever 5K run/walk. All proceeds went to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee. The overcast morning only added to the dreary, yet intriguing feeling at the complex, said Sarah Beatty, communication and events director at Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Under formula, some colleges improved grades, only to see $ drop (N-S/Boehnke)
Austin Peay University came up with a system to pair students with courses the same way Netflix recommends new movies and Pandora suggests new music. The school also worked to improve faculty morale and changed the way it helped students who arrive at college unprepared. The 10,000-student university just outside a military base in Middle Tennessee banked on these strategies. And it worked. The university graduated a third more students in 2013 than it did in 2010. “For a long time, our reputation was that we weren’t a strong academic school and that maybe we were a regional school, a good place for people in Clarksville to go to school,” said Jaime Taylor, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Tennessee’s auto plant ambitions could harm Hatchie River (Tennessean/Sisk)
The state’s $150 million effort to attract an auto plant to West Tennessee is drawing questions from environmentalists, who fear the effort could harm one of the Southeast’s least spoiled rivers. Tennessee and local officials support a plan to dump as much as a billion gallons of wastewater a year — laced perhaps with heavy metals such as lead and zinc — into the Hatchie River, right on the edge of a national wildlife refuge. Despite broad assurances from elected officials and others that the risk to the river has been minimized, the proposal has drawn scrutiny from federal and state wildlife officials, as well as The Nature Conservancy, the national nonprofit that specializes in protecting endangered habitats.

Primaries, retention for Supreme Court likely hottest elections (CA/Locker)
For the first time in years, Tennessee has competitive U.S. Senate primary elections in both parties, with Sen. Lamar Alexander facing two Republican challengers as his first hurdle for a third term while two prominent Knoxville lawyers face off for the Democratic nomination. Polling indicates Alexander has a substantial lead over state Rep. Joe Carr of Murfreesboro and George S. Flinn of Memphis in the GOP primary but the senator is taking the primary seriously due to the potential for a tea party uprising that has threatened incumbent Republicans. That doesn’t appear as serious of a threat in Tennessee as the one in Mississippi against veteran Republican Sen. Thad Cochran.

Bob Corker’s star on the ascent (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)
When Bob Corker was Chattanooga’s mayor a decade ago, his encounters with “foreign powers” mostly were limited to dealings with neighboring towns in Hamilton County. These days, as the top Republican on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he’s more likely to be found in far-flung corners of the Earth. The blunt-spoken Chattanoogan has become a globe-trotter since he assumed his role on the Democratic-run committee some 16 months ago. He’s racked up visits to 55 countries, including hot spots such as the Syrian border and Ukraine.

Chatt’s Volkswagen plant could see unique auto assembly system (TFP/Pare)
If Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant lands the automaker’s new sport utility vehicle, the company plans to install an innovative way of assembling cars that it says is groundbreaking to the industry. VW Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn said last week that the roll out of the company’s Modular Transverse Toolkit in Chattanooga and at other plants will be “a unique success in the automotive industry. The process enables VW to design models ranging from a three-door hatchback to an SUV virtually sharing the same front axle, pedal box and engine positioning, despite varying wheelbase and external dimensions.

Bell Helicopter expands footprint in the region (Times-News)
A major business player has emerged in the region out of the shadows of an under-the-radar company that once focused on refurbishing and selling used helicopters out of the Tri-County Industrial Park. Bell Helicopter’s footprint inside the park continues to grow with production buildings and business segments employing about 500 people, said Chad Nimrick, general manager of the Bell’s Piney Flats operation. The operation was previously known in Northeast Tennessee as Edwards & Associates, which was founded in 1977. Edwards, with about 50 employees, quietly expanded into international markets, built a larger facility and earned certification as an Federal Aviation Administration repair station and Bell-approved customer service facility.

Schools at a crossroads (Jackson Sun)
The Jackson-Madison County school system faces a critical moment starting with the budget for the next year. The school system has spent more money than it has received in revenue over the past two years, and another budget deficit is expected in the new fiscal year that starts July 1. If the same spending pattern continues the following year, the schools’ reserve fund would be empty. At the same time, school officials looking to improve the quality of education see major needs for spending on priorities including reading interventions, technology and challenging programs for high-achieving students.

Educators: Pilot test for severely disabled students misses mark (TN/Giordano)
A new standardized test that’s part of a pilot program being tested by Williamson County Schools to serve its most severely disabled students has been found to be significantly flawed. County educators say they volunteered to work with four students in an effort to better understand the new assessment. The test was developed through the National Center and State Collaborative, a consortium of 24 states that has created the assessments for public school students who have the most significant cognitive disabilities.

 

OPINION

Tom Humphrey: System to pick attorney general puts justices in a ‘firestorm’ (N-S)
Tennessee’s unique system for selecting a state attorney general has long been an irritation to some Republican state legislators, and today it may be a central factor in the not-quite-so-unique effort to block three Supreme Court justices from getting new terms of office. We live in the only state in the nation with an attorney general chosen by vote of Supreme Court justices for an eight-year term concurrent with the term of the five justices themselves. Most states let voters pick the AG. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Victor Ashe as a state senator made something of a crusade against the current system.

Justin Wilson: Tennessee Sen. Doug Henry is a true gentleman (Tennessean)
After this year’s elections, Sen. Doug Henry will leave the Tennessee General Assembly having served longer than anyone else in history. Although he and I belong to different political parties, he was my state senator for over four decades, which means I know a few stories about him. Some of which are even suitable for retelling in a newspaper. Through the years, Sen. Henry became one of the foremost experts on the state’s finances, but it wasn’t always easy. He was first elected to the state House during an era when rural interests and the Boss Crump political machine held sway in the legislature. Sen. Henry grew up in suburban Belle Meade, so he began his career as a political outsider.

Editorial: Persuading graduates to launch careers right here at home (C. Appeal)
On May 10 more than 2,500 students were awarded diplomas at the University of Memphis, including 15-year-old Arun Jambulapati, who was calculating house payments at the age of 3, studying advanced algebra at 10, and taking on calculus and chemistry soon after. Now he’s leaving for Stanford to get his doctorate. Will Jambulapati and other students like him ever return? Is there any chance that we will see much of Joshua Hawkins, the Memphis University School senior who decided on Harvard among offers from four Ivy League schools this year?

Guest columnist: CCA prisons provide hope to inmates (Tennessean)
Nearly all of the men and women who enter the correctional system will return to our communities. That means we have a responsibility to provide them the tools they need to succeed on the outside, so they don’t repeat the behaviors that led to their incarceration. Despite how popular culture often depicts prison — and despite what some might say who are motivated by politics — there’s real hope happening inside correctional facilities across our country. I see it every day working alongside chaplains, counselors, teachers and my fellow wardens at Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Providing quality rehabilitation and reentry programming that helps inmates break the cycle of crime is part of our profession and our mission as a company.

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