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August 20 TN News Digest

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

Gov. Haslam promotes free tuition plan (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam has been visiting several schoolsthroughout the state to promote his free tuition plan. The governor will wrap up his visits on Wednesday at a high school in southeastern Davidson County. Called “Tennessee Promise,” the plan seeks to cover a full ride at two-year colleges for any high school graduate. It is a cornerstone of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” campaign to improve the state’s graduation rates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025 in order to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state. After graduation, students who choose to attend a four-year school will be able to do so as juniors. The application period for the program recently opened.

Haslam pushes community college scholarships with Tenn Promise (TFP/Omarzu)
Gov. Bill Haslam had a question Tuesday morning for Red Bank High School students assembled in the gym. Which of the 50 states, Haslam asked, pays for its high school graduates to attend two years of community college or technical school? “Just one — just Tennessee,” he said. “If you graduate from high school, we will make sure you can go to community college or technical college for two years absolutely free of tuition and fees.” The governor visited Red Bank as part of a barn-storming tour of high schools around the state to raise awareness of Tennessee Promise, a new scholarship program that guarantees to cover the “last dollar” — tuition and fees not paid by other state and federal programs.

Gov. Haslam promotes free college to Red Bank seniors (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)
How does free college sound? That just became a possibility for some high school seniors as they start thinking about next year. Governor Bill Haslam was at Red Bank High School Tuesday as part of the Tennessee Promise launch. The program will provide state high school graduates the chance to go to a community or technical college for free. The initiative is part of Haslam’s “Drive To 55” campaign to improve the state’s graduation rates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025. He’s traveling to different schools across the state spreading the message of free college. “It’s really important for folks to know about,” Haslam said.

H.S. Seniors Get a Close Look at “Tennessee Promise” (WDEF-TV Chattanooga)
Tennessee Promise–the new law passed by the legislature this year, offers something that could only have been imagined a few short years ago. Red Bank High School students got a close look at a program that may change their lives and their family. Escorted by a company of state legislators and local leaders, the governor drove his message home. GOV. BILL HASLAM, (R) TENNESSEE “Your obligation is to complete high school, fill out the financial aid form, work with a mentor that we will provide you…who will help you with all that and then perform 8 hours of community service. In exchange, you get two years of college absolutely free of tuition and fees.”

Haslam touts Promise scholarship program at Gibbs (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)
Gov. Bill Haslam received a standing ovation from a gymnasium packed with high school juniors and seniors Tuesday afternoon, just moments before he encouraged them to apply for Tennessee Promise scholarship program before the November deadline. The program, which he unveiled in January and lawmakers approved in mid-April, allows all Tennessee high school graduates to attend a community college or Tennessee college of applied technology free of tuition and fees, along with a mentor program to help them succeed. Before the assembly, he met with a roundtable of four seniors to chat about what their future plans entail and what the state could do to encourage more of its high schools to continue on to college.

Gov. Haslam urges high school seniors to apply for free college (WBIR-TV Knox.)
Governor Bill Haslam made a promise to Tennesseans earlier this year. He said every high school senior, no matter what their academic or financial circumstances, could go to community college for free. He has started the process of fulfilling that promise. He is traveling around the state speaking with high school students about how Tennessee Promise works and when to apply. Tuesday, he met with students at Gibbs High School in Corryton. First with a small group of students to get their input and then to the entire senior class.

Gov. Haslam pushing students to enroll in Tennessee Promise (WATE-TV Knox)
More than 800 students have already signed up for the Tennessee Promise in less than a week since enrollment opened. Governor Bill Haslam made the pitch to students at Gibbs High School Tuesday about the importance of going to college and taking advantage of the program. The Tennessee Promise was signed into law in May and gives the opportunity for every graduating senior in Tennessee the opportunity to attend community or technical college for free. “The Tennessee Promise is only good if people act on that and make the application,” explained Gov. Haslam. Since enrollment opened August 15, they’ve averaged 200 applications a day with the expectation of reaching 1,000 by the end of Tuesday.

Easter named to Tennessee appeals court bench (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam has named Circuit Judge Timothy Lee Easter of Brentwood to fill a criminal appeals court vacancy created by the retirement of Jerry L. Smith. Easter, who will take the appeals court bench on Sept. 1, served as an assistant district attorney and in private practice before he was appointed by then-Gov. Don Sundquist in 1998 as judge for the circuit that includes Williamson, Hickman, Lewis and Perry counties. He has also been a judge in the circuit’s drug court, an alternative treatment and sentencing program for non-violent offenders.

Tennessee students make big gains in ACT scores (Tennessean/Garrison)
Tennessee’s average ACT score, historically slow to improve despite constant attention from educators, has made its biggest year-to-year leap since the state began testing all students. It’s a key sign more students in Tennessee are graduating ready for college, state officials say, and shows the fruits of the state’s move to more rigorous coursework. “We’re starting to see the upward trend. We’ve been waiting for it, and it feels good that it’s here now,” said Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. Huffman, who has been under fire for advancing controversial education policies, called the results “heartening” and noted that in recent years the ACT had stayed stagnant despite increases among Tennessee students on other major achievement tests.

TCAP scores show improvement in Hamilton County’s iZone (TFP/Hardy)
Though most of Hamilton County’s iZone schools posted test score gains this spring, it wasn’t enough improvement to pull the five schools out of Tennessee’s bottom 5 percent. Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Woodmore Elementary were again named priority schools by the Tennessee Department of Education, a designation for the schools whose academic performance puts them among the lowest 5 percent in the state. On Tuesday evening, the Tennessee Department of Education released results of the 2014 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP.

Metro Nashville’s low-rated schools more than double (Tennessean/Garrison)
More than twice the number of Metro Nashville public schools are performing at the state’s lowest academic level than was the case two years ago, setting the stage for state intervention. The jump in “priority schools” in Nashville, from six to 15, according to an updated list of TCAP test results released Tuesday, has cracked the door open for an increased presence in Nashville by the state-run Achievement School District, which has jurisdiction over the 85 schools that fall within the bottom 5 percent of performance statewide. The 2-year-old ASD, which has handed the keys of low-performing schools to privately run charter operators, is eyeing the conversion of three to five Nashville schools to charters over the next two years, The Tennessean reported last month.

East Tennessee school districts see increase in ACT scores (News-Sentinel/McCoy)
A number of East Tennessee districts, including Knox County, saw improvements in their ACT scores this year, according to results released today. The test, on which students can score up to a 36, is used to measure the college readiness of students. If students meet benchmarks on the standardized test in English, math, reading and science, they are considered college-ready, meaning they could take a college-level course in that subject area and earn at least a “C.” Last year, ACT implemented new benchmarks for reading, from 21 to 22, and in science, from 24 to 23. Benchmarks in English and math remained at 18 and 22, respectively.

19 schools in Memphis no longer among state’s bottom 5 percent (CA/Roberts)
In the school test scores released Tuesday, 50 schools in the Shelby County Schools district ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state, down from 69 two years ago. While 15 schools improved enough to come off the priority list, 17 others, including four charter schools, are now on it and in line for state takeover or closure. But for the second consecutive year, a group of SCS schools in the Innovation Zone outperformed students in the state-run Achievement School District in key subjects, including a 17.2 percent gain in science over last year and 13.6 gain in Algebra 1. Six of the 13 schools in the iZone are now off the Priority list.

15 Shelby County Schools Removed From Failing List (Memphis Daily News)
A total of 15 Shelby County Schools made their way off the state’s list of the bottom 5 percent of schools in Tennessee in terms of student performance and proficiency. The school system tallied the improvements Tuesday, Aug. 19, as state education officials released the individual school results of Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test results from the 2013-2014 school year as well as Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS) results. Six of those schools were Innovation Zone schools, which the school system has devoted more resources to, including specialists as well as fresh starts of faculties and staff as well as principals.

Humes Rises From Bottom 5 Percent of Tennessee Schools (Memphis Daily News)
Humes Preparatory Academy is no longer in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state in terms of student achievement, as measured by state education officials. That according to school-by-school test data from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) and Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS) data, released by state education officials Tuesday, Aug. 19, in Nashville. Humes, which is in its third school year as part of the state-run Achievement School District, posted a 2.2 percent gain over the previous year in the students proficient or advanced in math and a 9.9 percent decrease in students proficient or advanced in reading in the 2013-2014 school year – its second in the ASD.

South’s ACT composite bests D-B’s — again (Times-News)
The Rebels have beaten the Tribe on the ACT again. For the second year in a row, Sullivan South High School’s composite ACT score was higher than Kingsport’s Dobyns-Bennett High School. The 2014 score for Sullivan County’s South is 22.7, same as 2013, bested D-B’s score of 22.1, down from 22.2 in 2013. The ACT scores were embargoed nationwide until 3 a.m. today. South also continued to lead the Sullivan County system, while Sullivan North High posted the greatest ACT composite score gains in the system, moving its 2013 average of 18.0 to 19.3 for the class of 2014. That marks the highest score for North in five years.

Rossview High leads system in TCAP test results (Leaf Chronicle)
Rossview dominated other high schools in the system in school-by-school 2014 TCAP results released on Tuesday. The school had a higher percentage of Proficient and Advanced results than the other Clarksville-Montgomery County schools in four test categories, followed by the much-smaller Middle College, which dominated in four categories. Rossview was second only to Middle College in three of those four. Among the high schools, Kenwood and Northeast had the lowest performances, each scoring lowest on two Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests. Perhaps the best news was for Montgomery Central, which showed growth of a whopping 30.7 points in Algebra II, and 10.9 in English I.

With Improvement In Memphis, More Schools Become Lowest-Performing (WPLN)
Another 10 schools in Nashville have been deemed eligible for state takeover because of their slow rate of improvement. Tennessee education officials released their list of “priority” schools Tuesday, and the number in Nashville went up, while the figures in Memphis went down. (The Tennessee Department of Education also released school-by-school results for every school in the state.) This list represents the bottom five percent of schools in Tennessee, and the last time it was released, Memphis had nearly all of them. “When the list came out two years ago, and folks saw 69 schools in Memphis, I think it automatically created a sense of urgency that didn’t exist,” Achievement School District superintendent Chris Barbic told reporters on a conference call.

2 Sumner schools named to ‘focus’ list (Tennessean/Easton)
Two Sumner County Schools have been cited by the Tennessee Department of Education as “focus schools” under the state’s new accountability system that replaced No Child Left Behind last year. Westmoreland Elementary and White House High School were listed as needing improvement in closing achievement gaps between their overall student population and students with disabilities. Under the state’s accountability system, schools are highlighted in three areas: Reward, Priority and Focus. Focus schools are the 10 percent with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and English-language learners.

Three Knox schools designated a ‘priority’ by state (News-Sentinel/McCoy)
Three Knox County schools — Green Magnet Academy, Vine Middle Magnet School and Lonsdale Elementary — have been added to the state’s list of lowest performing schools, joining Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy. Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre said looking at the work that has been done at the four schools, he feels good about the focus the district has brought to them. And results will come. “I think in a couple of those instances, we are beginning to see some real positive momentum and positive changes and improvements in those schools,” he said. “But it’s a three year-index, so those changes perhaps haven’t come soon enough to see the results as of yet.”

Get fit at work? 73 Tenn employers make list of healthier workplaces (TN/Wilemon)
Bill Carpenter insisted on abundant natural light, an inviting staircase and a spacious gym. The result is a new corporate headquarters for LifePoint Hospitals in Brentwood that encourages its 475 employees to be more active. In Sumner County, Diane Vann sends out reminders to drink more water, cut back on fried foods and take walks. She’s got the 13 employees at the UT Extension office in Gallatin thinking about healthier choices. Carpenter is the chief executive officer of a hospital company. Vann is a 4-H program assistant. But Vann could have a bigger impact than Carpenter on helping Tennesseans live healthier lives.

State completes $190M bond sale (Nashville Post)
Comptroller Justin P. Wilson announced today the state has completed the sale of about $190 million worth of general obligation bonds at what it calls “some of the lowest interest rates in Tennessee history.” The debt offering was sold in two series, consisting of Series A for $111,065,000 in tax-exempt bonds and Series B for $79,160,000 of tax-exempt refunding bonds, according to a release. The combined true interest cost of the bonds is 2.99 percent. The bonds will be used to fund new capital projects and refinance currently outstanding bonds. The refinanced bonds will save Tennessee taxpayers $6.9 million spanning a 16-year period, Wilson (pictured) said.

TDOT to remove sign for teen killed on I-24 (Daily News Journal)
A sign memorializing a teenager killed on Interstate 24 when he was struck by a vehicle while changing a tire will be removed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, a TDOT representative said. Clifton Braunwalder, who was a 13-year-old Boy Scout, died April 10 at Tristar StoneCrest Medical Center in Smyrna after he was hit. Tina L. Wilson, 33, of Murfreesboro, appeared in court Tuesday on felony charges of vehicular homicide by intoxication, vehicular homicide by recklessness, reckless assault and leaving the scene of a fatal crash. The sign was put up by a family friend of the Braunwalders, said Heather Jensen, a community relations officer for TDOT, in an email.

Common Core Has Less Support in Poll (Wall Street Journal)
Public support for the Common Core educational standards is waning, according to an annual poll about public schools by Gallup and PDK International, a group for education professionals. While awareness of the widely embraced national standards has grown substantially since last year’s survey, 60% of poll respondents say they oppose requiring teachers to instruct using the standards. Results of the survey released Wednesday of 1,001 Americans aged 18 and older indicated that opinions of the Common Core reflect recent political bantering on the topic, with greater disapproval coming from Republicans than from Democrats.

Nashville hotel tax collections set another new record (Nashville Business Journal)
City-wide hotel occupancy tax collections hit a new record high in fiscal year 2014, the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. announced today. During FY 2013-14, the city collected $44.9 million from the tax, a 21.7 percent increase over FY 2012-13 , when the city collected $36.9 million, itself a record-setting year. Three individual record-setting months helped drive this fiscal year: October 2013, March 2014, and June 2014 all broke the record for the highest single monthly collections in the city’s history. June 2014 revenues totaled $4.95 million, which exceeded the previous all-time high, March 2014, by 4 percent, and October 2013 by 21 percent.

McMinn County paper mill starts $105 million project (Times Free-Press/Pare)
McMinn County Mayor John Gentry says he essentially kept two budgets amid the last business downturn in case there was a problem with the county’s biggest taxpayer, known for years as the Bowater plant. But on Tuesday, Gentry said a new $105 million expansion to the pulp and paper mill will provide stability to the plant — and to the county’s finances. “It’s a shot in the arm,” said Gentry at the groundbreaking of the project Tuesday. “I see the company pivoting with the times to grow.” The expansion at Resolute Forest Products will add 50 more jobs to the existing 540-person staff and help specialty and commercial paper production, lower costs, increase quality and add about 50 more jobs.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Potential land sale could bring more jobs (Jackson Sun)
It seems our industrious team of economic developers — Jackson city officials, Madison County officials, Jackson Energy Authority officials and the Jackson Chamber of Commerce — haven’t taken time off to pat themselves on the back for their job well done in bringing Pacific Industries, and its projected 190 new jobs, to the Hub City. Instead, they’ve been busy while we’ve been celebrating, busy eyeing an additional 134 acres at Airport Industrial Park, busy laying the groundwork to attract yet another new business to our “warm hearted” and hardworking community.

Editorial: Y-2 technician deserves praise for discovery (News-Sentinel)
If not for the vigilance of one technician at the Y-12 National Security Complex in 2012, workers at the nuclear weapons plant might have continued using radioactive respirators unawares during the past two years. According to records released earlier this month as the result of a News Sentinel Freedom of Information Act request, officials still do not know how a large number of respirators and breathing tubes were contaminated or how many Y-12 employees might have been exposed when they thought they were being protected. The respirators are used to keep workers from inhaling particles of radioactive material or chemicals used at the plant.

Editorial: VA system must build trust back (Daily News Journal)
Rebuilding trust usually is more difficult than gaining trust in the first place, but officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs are in the process of trying to rebuild that trust. The Tennessee Valley Health Care System sponsored a town hall forum in Murfreesboro Tuesday to hear veterans’ concerns about its health care system and will continue the process next month in Chattanooga, Clarksville and Nashville What VA officials heard Tuesday were questions about wait times that veterans must endure to receive necessary medical services at system facilities. Juan Morales, director of the VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare Network, Tuesday acknowledged that patients in this network wait an average of 65 days to see a physician.

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