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July 31 TN News Digest

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

Test Results Show Goal For Lowest-Performing Schools Wasn’t Crazy (WPLN)
Standardized test results for each Tennessee district are being released Wednesday, and education officials are trying to highlight the good and explain the bad. Some of the most closely watched schools in the state are part of the Achievement School District. The ASD experienced gains in math and science and reversed a drop in reading scores. The special statewide district is taking over the lowest-performing schools in the state with a goal of moving them into the top 25 percent in just five years. Now in year three, superintendent Chris Barbic says he’s encouraged. “You know, when we first talked about this, this was a goal that folks thought was completely crazy.

Williamson sees TCAP gains in nearly every subject, grade (Tennessean/Giordano)
Williamson County Schools managed to improve their Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP, scores in nearly every subject at every grade level of the standardized test, according to scores released today. The biggest increase among Williamson County students in grades 9-12 was on the Algebra 2 assessment, in which students increased their overall score by more than 10 percentage points. “Our students and teachers hit another home run, and I am so proud of them,” Superintendent Mike Looney said. “For the fourth year in a row, Williamson County students have made significant progress.”

TCAP scores climb: Only half of Hamilton Co. perform at grade level (TFP/Hardy)
Hamilton County students improved their performance on this year’s TCAPs, pushing scores up in seven of 11 tested areas. State officials continued to point to test score growth as evidence that Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s reforms are improving the quality of public education. Yet 2014 state assessment scores released Wednesday by the Tennessee Department of Education show there’s still a long way to go: In Hamilton County, only about half of elementary and middle school students are performing at grade level in math and reading.

Metro Nashville sees mostly gains, some drops in latest TCAP scores (TN/Garrison)
Metro Nashville Public Schools has seen test scores steadily climb from four years ago — reflecting a statewide pattern — but gains this year are modest at the elementary and middle school levels, and scores declined in two high school subjects. The percentage of Metro students proficient or advanced in English III and Algebra I dropped at the same time scores jumped in seven subjects, 2014 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results released Wednesday show. While Metro is still lagging behind surrounding counties and the state average in scores, Director of Schools Jesse Register pointed to gains in six subject areas that were greater than the state’s.

Nash. Schools Report Modest Test Gains, Make Pitch To ‘Abandon’ TCAP (WPLN)
Poor and minority students are improving faster in Nashville than they are statewide. Also, standardized test results released Wednesday show improvement in most subjects. The two problem spots are in Algebra I and English III, though district leaders say that’s partially explained by an increase in students opting for advanced courses. But results of the test – known as TCAP – don’t mean what they used to. The tests haven’t been updated to reflect new classroom standards, and Nashville’s superintendent says he’s ready to move on. “What I’d like to do next year is abandon TCAP,” Register told reporters.

Shelby County test scores up overall; high schools shine brightest (CA/Roberts)
Students in Shelby County Schools made gains in nearly every subject this spring, but the biggest leaps were in the high schools, particularly in algebra and English, where the average gain was 6 points. Elementary and middle school students posted gains of 1-3 percent in key subjects, but lost ground in math. “We are very pleased to know we’re trending in the right direction,” said Supt. Dorsey Hopson. “However, we cannot rest with slight gains; we must press forward with a more aggressive agenda that increases student achievement at a more rapid rate.”

High school TCAP English, math scores improve (Daily News Journal)
The state Department of Education has released each school district’s results from the 2014 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, administered this spring. Overall, high school students showed significant improvement, while scores for elementary and middle school students remained nearly the same. Reading scores for students in grades 3-8 dropped and continue to be an area that needs improvement, state officials said. “Students are learning to do more advanced writing, citing evidence from the text, and showing their work in math, and we know that this work is important to get our students ready for post-secondary opportunities and the workforce.

TCAP results: Scores ‘largely flat’ (Knoxville News-Sentinel/McCoy)
While Knox County Schools’ TCAP scores showed some gains compared to its previous year scores there were declines, according to school district level data released Wednesday by the Tennessee Department of Education. “Overall, in terms of TCAP scores themselves, we’ve seen strong gains and strong academic progress the last several years and I think the results we see for the past year are largely flat,” Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre said. “We see some gains in some promising proficiencies in some areas and we saw some declines and obviously that would be a concern to us.”

Knox County’s TCAP results show mostly flat results (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
The 2014 TCAP results have been released county-by-county, and results show Knox County had mostly flat results compared to years past. “We are given the designation of ‘achieved’ not ‘exemplary,'” Dr. Jim McIntyre said shortly after those results were released. Results show the system achieved seven of the 11 goals that the state designated for them, including seventh grade math, high school algebra I & II, and high school English 10 & 11. Last year, nine of the 11 goals were met. “We’re used to the last few years where we’ve seen pretty significant increases in student achievement and proficiency, and so this year, it’s pretty flat,” McIntyre added.

High school test scores improve, lower grades more flat (Jackson Sun)
Jackson-Madison County high school students improved in most subjects, while students in the lower grades had some declining scores and some smaller gains in state test results released Wednesday. The Tennessee Department of Education released district-level results from the 2014 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests students took last school year. According to a news release from the Jackson-Madison County School System, the district’s results show increases in a number of high school subject areas. The results say that 9-12 grade Biology I showed the largest growth percentage from last year with 8.7 percent growth, and 9-12 grade English III showed the largest decrease at 6.5 percent down from last year.

CMCSS TCAP scores show some growth, need for improvement (Leaf Chronicle)
While the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System outperformed the statewide average in most areas of this year’s TCAP test, the system was flat in many test areas and failed to meet its state-identified targets. The state released Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program district scores Wednesday, and the CMCSS performance overall mirrored districts across the state. “Consistent with the state, we saw gains in the high schools. The scores in grades 3-8 reading and math were relatively flat, and as a district we did not meet our identified targets,” said Kimi Sucharski, accountability coordinator for CMCSS.

State: Robertson TCAP scores need improvement (Tennessean/Robinson)
The Tennessee Department of Education has labeled the Robertson County School district “In Need of Improvement,” after they say Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) scores failed to reach the majority of targets for both achievement and gap closures this year. The State’s release of the April TCAP results today show Robertson County with declines in all four subject areas, math, reading and language, science and social studies for grades three through eight. The overall achievement data reflects a 1.7 percent decline in those four areas.

TN students in grades 3-8 struggle in reading (Associated Press)
District-level student assessment scores released by the Tennessee Department of Education show elementary and middle school students need improvement in reading. The state released results from the 2014 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program on Wednesday. Statewide, reading in grades three to eight dropped slightly, and is an area of continued need for improvement. Results from the 2013-14 TCAP results released earlier this month showed students in those grade levels continue to lag behind in reading. For 2014, results in grades three to eight math, science, and social studies were largely flat or showed slight growth.

State-led district expects to take over more Nashville schools (Tenn/Garrison)
After concentrating efforts almost exclusively in Memphis for its first two years, a state-led district that has handed the keys of low-performing schools to charter school operators is poised to expand its footprint in Nashville. Three to five Metro Nashville schools could be in line for charter conversions courtesy of the Achievement School District over the next two years, beginning with one in 2015-16, Chris Barbic, the ASD’s superintendent, told The Tennessean. The ASD, which is authorized by state law to take over schools in the bottom 5 percent of academic performance statewide, has overseen schools for the past two years in Tennessee, with intervention expanding to 23 schools and 6,500 students this fall.

Money woes halt road projects; 1,000 jobs at risk (Tennessean/Walters)
Facing cuts of more than $850 million for Tennessee highway and infrastructure improvements, state and local leaders are bracing for potentially catastrophic economic effects that could put at least 1,000 jobs at risk and slow the state’s economy. Unless Congress intervenes with money to refresh the soon-to-be depleted Highway Trust Fund, federal transportation leaders will shut off funding to state agencies by Aug. 1, triggering cutbacks across the nation. While the House on Tuesday voted in favor of a short-term measure that would contribute about $11 billion to the Highway Trust Fund, Senate leaders have yet to vote for the funding measure.

TDOT faces major budget cuts if Congress doesn’t meet Friday deadline (WKRN-TV)
Congress has until Friday to extend funding to the Highway Trust Fund to keep the federal fund afloat at least through the end of the year. If not, the government will not be able to fully fund road projects it promised Tennessee it would fund. The Tennessee Department of Transportation and the road construction industry is anxiously waiting to see if Congress can agree on a way to keep the Highway Trust Fund a float before an August 1 deadline when the U.S. Department of Transportation said it would have to start delaying payments to states. The Highway Trust Fund is funded by an 18 cent-per-gallon gas tax.

Overdoses kill more than car accidents or homicides in Tennessee (Tenn/Wilemon)
More people died from drug overdoses in Tennessee during 2013 than the prior year, the Tennessee Department of Health said Tuesday. Overdose fatalities totaled 1,166. More Tennesseans died from drug overdoses than in motor vehicle accidents, homicides or suicides. The increase in overdose deaths over 2012 was 6.5 percent. Health officials are reminding the public that people now have an option that can save the lives of loved ones who are at risk for overdoses. On July 1, Tennessee began allowing doctors to prescribe an antidote to narcotic overdoses called naloxone.

Tax-free weekend starts Friday for Tennessee and Virginia (Herald-Courier)
Back-to-school shoppers, get ready. At 12:01 a.m. Friday, it’s game on for tax-free school supply shopping in both Tennessee and Virginia, just days before many school students return to the classroom for a new school year…In Tennessee, consumers will not pay state or local sales taxes on clothing, school and art supplies that cost less than $100 per item, and computers that cost $1,500 or less, according to a statement. In both states, online or call-in orders for eligible supplies during the time frame are eligible for tax-free status. Retailers that sell the items that qualify must sell them at a tax-free rate, and customers don’t have to live in the state to take advantage of the tax-free status.

Sales tax holiday gets underway this weekend (Times-News)
Consumers and retailers love them. But the love stops with tax policy types. Since 2006, Tennessee has been holding a Sales Tax Holiday the first weekend in August each year. From Friday through Sunday, tax-free items will include clothing with a price of $100 or less per item, school and school art supplies with a price of $100 or less per item and computers with a price of $1,500 or less, according to the Tennessee Department of Revenue (TDR). TDR defines clothing as “human wearing apparel suitable for general use” — including shirts, dresses, pants, coats, gloves and mittens, hats and caps, hosiery, neckties, belts, sneakers, shoes, uniforms whether athletic or non-athletic, and scarves.

Handful of Haslam’s cabinet members receive bigger raises in recent years (WJHL)
The State of Tennessee didn’t have the money to give its employees raises this year but a Community Watchdog investigation revealed in past years some of the governor’s staffers quietly took home bigger raises than other state workers, with one collecting sizeable raises twice in the last four years. A spokesperson for Gov. Bill Haslam (R) says like every other state employee, none of the governor’s cabinet members received raises on July 1st, 2014. However, if you go back to July 1st, 2013 and July 1st, 2012 you’ll find the governor rewarded some of his senior executives during those fiscal years.

Fight over Tennessee Supreme Court justices costly so far (TFP/Sher)
Spending in the ongoing fight over the re-election of three Tennessee Supreme Court justices has now topped $575,000, according to an independent group. And those figures are just for television ads as justices and their allies battle conservative Republican groups seeking to oust them, according to an independent group. New figures released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice show Justices Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade as well as an independent group, Tennesseans for Fair Courts, have spent about $316,000 on TV ads so far.

What’s at stake for business in the battle over Tennessee’s Supreme Court? (NBJ)
Tennesseans are slated to vote to retain or unseat three of the state’s Supreme Court justices next week. The election has grown into a heated debate and the first serious challenge to sitting justices in almost 20 years, as Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and the Republican State Leadership Committee have initiated a campaign to defeat the three justices, all Democratic appointees of former Gov. Phil Bredesen (Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Sharon Lee and Cornelia A. Clark recently sat down with our sister publication, Memphis Business Journal, to defend their records).

Murfreesboro referendum set on wine in grocery stores (Daily News Journal)
The city’s registered voters will get the chance Nov. 4 to decide if wine can be sold in grocery stores, a Nashville public relations firm reported today. The Rutherford County Election Commission notified Red White and Food that the required number of signatures have been turned in to hold a referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot, according to the press release from McNeely, Pigott & Fox. “Residents of Murfreesboro have been very supportive of the campaign to allow wine sales in Tennessee’s retail food stores,” Susie Alcorn, Red White and Food campaign manager, said in the press release.

Alexander dismisses claims he isn’t conservative enough (Daily News Journal)
After recent tea party criticisms accusing Sen. Lamar Alexander of not being conservative enough, the incumbent defended his record Tuesday morning during a tour of the Barrett Firearms plant outside Murfreesboro. Alexander came under fire last week when state Rep. Joe Carr, a GOP primary opponent, reportedly said all the senator’s recent endorsements are from the Stone Age after Carr received a nod from former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin. Alexander, who has been backed by former presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich and two former chairmen of the American Conservative Union, said he is pleased with his supporters.

Alexander poll shows more than 2-1 advantage over Carr (WKRN-TV Nashville)
An internal poll from Senator Lamar Alexander’s campaign provided to News 2 upon request shows he has a comfortable lead over his opponents, including his most serious challenger State Representative Joe Carr. They polled 600 likely Republicans across the state of Tennessee from July 27 until July 29. With a 4 percent margin of error, the poll indicates Senator Alexander took over half the votes, coming out on top with 54 percent. Prime challenger Carr came in next with 24 percent of the votes. Trailing behind were George Flinn with 5 percent and Erin McGee with one.

Pow! Bam! Fleischmann, Wamp trade jabs (Times Free-Press/Brogdon)
With one week to go before the state primary, TV ad wars are raging in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s campaign is launching its fourth television attack ad in about two weeks against Republican challenger Weston Wamp today. The ad, set to run in the Chattanooga and Knoxville markets, criticizes Wamp’s involvement in an insurance brokerage company launched by Wamp’s employer that connects clients with Affordable Care Act health plans. “Weston is founding director of a company invested in Obamacare. Why would he criticize the president when Obama is making him money?” the Fleischmann ad asks. Meanwhile, Wamp has a new TV spot, too.

House approves VA health care overhaul (Associated Press)
The House overwhelmingly approved a landmark bill Wednesday to help veterans avoid long waits for health care that have plagued the Department of Veterans Affairs for years. The $16.3 billion measure also would allow the VA to hire thousands of doctors and nurses and rewrite employment rules to make it easier to fire senior executives judged to be negligent or performing poorly. The 420-5 vote sends the bill to the Senate, where approval is expected Thursday. The bill includes $10 billion in emergency spending to help veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.3 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country.

VA health care fix easily passes House (Nashville Business Journal)
Legislation to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs’ broken health care system sailed through the House on a 420-5 vote Wednesday afternoon. The legislation addresses the long wait times veterans have faced for health care at VA facilities. It provides $10 billon in funding so that veterans can get care from non-VA physicians if the VA can’t see them quickly, or if vets live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility. Another $5 billion will be provided to the VA to hire more doctors and other health care staff, and lease additional facilities.

States Hit Snags Issuing Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants (WSJ)
A law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is set to take effect Friday in Colorado, but the state is facing challenges as it seeks to handle a wave of applicants. Other states with large immigrant populations, such as California and Illinois, also are dealing with complications and high demands as they implement similar laws. In Colorado, the motor-vehicle division’s scheduling website was overwhelmed in early July after it started setting up appointments for undocumented immigrants, and shut down several times.

Judge orders Kellogg to put locked-out employees back to work (CA/Risher)
U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays ordered Kellogg Wednesday to put 220 locked-out Memphis cereal plant workers back to work. Mays granted the relief sought by the National Labor Relations Board, which lodged a claim in April that Kellogg illegally locked out the workers last October. He issued an injunction ordering the company to return to the bargaining table with the workers’ union, but did not rule on a request for back pay, a union attorney said. Michigan-based Kellogg began the lockout and brought in replacements to run the plant after the union balked at a new wage and staffing plan, saying it would virtually guarantee a lower-paid workforce in the future.

East Tennessee health premiums among nation’s lowest (Tennessean/Rau)
The dominion of Tennessee’s largest health insurer is reflected in its headquarters’ lofty perch above the city, atop a hill that during the Civil War was lined with Union cannons to repel Confederate troops. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has used its position to establish a similarly firm foothold in the first year of the marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act. The company sold 88 percent of the plans purchased by Tennessee individuals and families. Only one other insurer, Cigna, offered policies in Chattanooga, and the premiums were substantially higher than BlueCross’s.

Tennessee Virtual Academy keeps 626 new students (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
The Union County School Board voted Wednesday night to keep more than 600 students enrolled at Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA). The vote comes after the state told the board they would have to unenroll those students to keep the school running. In a letter dated July 30, 2014, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman said he would leave it to the school board to decide whether or not to unenroll 626 new students, without the threat of closing the school. The board unanimously voted in favor of keeping the students enrolled. “Elated. Now we get to start school with our 626 students.

Connecticut: State Selling Ads On Connecticut Ferries (Hartford-Courant)
Two historic state-owned ferries have been carrying vehicles and passengers back and forth across the Connecticut River for generations, but this year is the first time they have been emblazoned with commercial advertising. State Department of Transportation officials say Carter Mario Injury Lawyers is paying the state $5,000 to put up its ads for this ferry season (April – November). That breaks down to $2,500 for the ad on the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferry, and the same amount for Chester-Hadlyme ferry. DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said agency officials decided to seek advertising for the ferries to help offset the boats’ operating deficits. In 2012, the ferries were kept operating with a combined state subsidy of $651,000 dollars.

Georgia: Georgia launches campaign to help young adults finish college (AJC)
State officials launched a program Tuesday designed to help young adults with some college credits complete their degrees. The program is part of a push to achieve a statewide goal of having 250,000 college graduates by the year 2050. To reach that goal, as many as 90,000 Georgians would need to return to college and complete their degrees, said Hank Huckaby, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia. The national nonprofit organization Complete College America has projected that by 2020 more than 60 percent of jobs in Georgia will require a college certificate or degree, but only 42 percent of young adults in the state currently have these college credentials.

Texas: TSTC Launches Center for Employability Outcomes (Texas Tribune)
With the launch of a new initiative Monday, the Texas State Technical College System could help revolutionize how colleges align their curriculum with workforce demands and help their students match up better with employers’ needs. The new Center for Employability Outcomes at TSTC, whose website went live this week, will operate in close coordination with the Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Education Agency. The center is largely built around the Common Skills Language Project, the name given to a more than five-year effort that originated at the Workforce Commission.

 

OPINION

Bob Corker: VW success will ripple through Tennessee (Tennessean)
We are incredibly fortunate to live in a state in which companies worldwide are clamoring to establish a presence. Many attribute it to our pro-business culture, well-prepared workforce, low-tax environment, right-to-work policies and engaged citizenry. That is why the announcement by Volkswagen to build its midsize sport utility vehicle and establish the South’s first automotive research and development center in Chattanooga was possible. I could not be more excited about Volkswagen’s deepened commitment to our state and for the thousands of Tennessee families who will benefit from the high-quality jobs that will be added at the plant and at automotive suppliers statewide.

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