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August 21 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 program (Associated Press/Johnson)
Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday urged students to take advantage of his program to cover a full ride at two-year colleges for any high school graduate. The Republican governor has been visiting several schools throughout the state and wrapped up his trip Wednesday at Antioch High School in southeastern Davidson County. Haslam told a packed auditorium of students he doesn’t want affordability to be a reason a person doesn’t attend college. “We don’t want anyone to say, ‘I’d like to go to college, but can’t afford it,’ ” he said.

Haslam encourages students to apply for free community college (CA/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam wrapped up a statewide tour Wednesday to encourage high school seniors to apply for the new “Tennessee Promise” of two free years of community college. He said more than 1,000 have signed up during the four days applications have been open. “The purpose has been to get our message out about the Tennessee Promise. It is a great program; it’s a great promise, but unless students take advantage of this two years of community college free, then it’s just another good idea,” he told seniors at Antioch High School. The class of 2015 is the first eligible for the program.

Gov. Haslam launches Tennessee Promise program (WKRN-TV Nashville)
Governor Bill Haslam launched the Tennessee Promise to Antioch High School’s senior class Wednesday. As part of the program, all graduating seniors are eligible for two years of free tuition at a community college or technical school here in Tennessee. Student Mecca Shabazz just enrolled in the program. She told News 2 she feels her future looks bright. “It will also take a lot of pressure off the money situation. It will really help, so I can focus on other things instead of that,” she explained. The Tennessee Promise program opens the door to higher education for the entire student body Principal Dr. Adrienne Koger said.

Bill Haslam Visits South Greene High School (Greeneville Sun)
Gov. Bill Haslam visited South Greene High School Wednesday morning to address the student body. Haslam has visited several high schools across the state this week as he works to promote the Tennessee Promise initiative. Beginning with the class of 2015, all Tennessee graduates can attend two years of community college or technical school free of tuition charges and fees. Haslam encouraged current high school seniors to apply at www.tnpromise.gov by the Nov. 1 deadline.

Gov. Haslam visits South Greene H.S. to promote Tennessee Promise (WJHL-TV)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam visited South Greene High School today to talk with students about the new Tennessee Promise program in which the state would pay tuition for 2 years of community college or technical school beginning with the Class of 2015. Haslam has been making his way across the state this week, talking with students about the program and told us that time to register is limited, “2 years free tuition, community college or technical school, to any Tennessean who graduates from H.S. but that promise doesn’t do any good if students don’t apply. The application deadline is Nov. 1 so we’ve been very encouraged, we’ve already had over 1,000 submit applications just in the last four days.

Haslam Selling Free College to High School Seniors (TN Report)
With summer winding down and school kicking off, Gov. Bill Haslam is on a statewide tour promote the benefits of higher education to seniors who’ll graduate high school this year. This week Haslam is traveling the Volunteer State pitching his “Tennessee Promise,” a new program offering two years of community college or technical school free to any student interested. The governor says the initiative, which the state Legislature overwhelmingly OK’d last spring, is unique to Tennessee. “Every Tennessean, if you graduate from high school, we will ensure that you can go to community college for two years — or to technology school — absolutely free of tuition and fees,” Haslam told a gymnasium packed with students at Red Bank High School near Chattanooga Tuesday.

MTSU Lowers ACT Scores Needed For Scholarships (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Middle Tennessee State University is lowering the scores needed on the ACT to earn merit scholarships. For example, for a guaranteed $5,000 scholarship, students now only need a 30 on their ACT instead of a 32. The university is making this move as the state rolls out Gov. Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” plan. Tennessee Promise will use state lottery funding to pay for part or all of students’ tuition at community colleges, but it will put less money into HOPE Scholarships for freshman and sophomores at four-year colleges. Debra Sells, the university’s vice provost of enrollment, says the school is lowering the barrier for merit scholarships to help offset that decrease for lowerclassmen.

Grants to encourage students to walk, bike (Associated Press)
Nearly 20 Tennessee communities are getting grants to encourage elementary and middle school students to walk and bike. Gov. Bill Haslam announced the Safe Routes to School grants this week for 17 municipalities. The Safe Routes to School Program is a statewide initiative designed to make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing alternative for students. The funds totaling $1.8 million will be used by schools to improve sidewalks, crosswalks and signs and fund walking and biking educational activities.

Haslam announces Safe Routes to School Grants for communities (Biz Clarksville)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Safe Routes to School funding totaling $1.8 million for 17 municipalities in Tennessee. The grants will be used by multiple schools to improve sidewalks, crosswalks, signs, and fund safe walking and biking educational activities. The Safe Routes to School Program is a statewide initiative designed to make bicycling and walking to school a safer, more appealing and healthier alternative for students. “Increased physical activity is key to improving the health of Tennessee families,” Haslam said. “The Safe Routes to School Program helps communities across the state create safer walking and biking environments for students and encourages a healthy lifestyle.”

Sullivan County judge sworn in to Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (T-N)
In the region’s first major judicial appointment in decades, Judge Robert Montgomery Jr. was sworn in Wednesday by Gov. Bill Haslam to serve on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. “It has been awhile since we had an appellate criminal court judge from Northeast Tennessee, and it’s our time,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville. “Rob stood head and shoulders above everyone else, although we had some great people apply for this position.” The Kingsport Renaissance Center Theatre was filled with attorneys and judges from across the state as Montgomery took the oath of office during an investiture ceremony. A 17-member Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments sent Haslam three finalists for the judgeship.

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 Easter is a graduate of the Nashville School of Law and earned his undergraduate degree from Lipscomb University, where he has also worked as an adjunct professor.

Governor names Easter to Court of Criminal Appeals (Nashville Post)
Gov. Bill Haslam has named Timothy Lee Easter to the Court of Criminal Appeals. Easter has been a circuit court judge for the 21st Judicial District, which consists of Williamson, Hickman, Lewis and Perry counties. He was appointed to that position in 1998 by Gov. Don Sundquist, was elected later that year for an eight-year term and was re-elected for another eight-year term in 2006. “We are fortunate to have a person with this level of experience on the bench, and I am pleased to make this appointment to the Court of Criminal Appeals,” Haslam said. “Having Judge Easter in this position will serve the Middle Section well.”

Retention message: Keep politics out of courtroom (Times-News)
Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday most Tennesseans feel like their appellate court system is working well, and that may be why they decided to retain three state Supreme Court justices earlier this month after a contentious political campaign. Chief Justice Gary Wade, and Justices Sharon Lee and Cornelia Clark — all Democratic appointees of former Gov. Phil Bredesen — each garnered nearly a half million votes to be retained over the wishes of advocacy groups who wanted them replaced. Those advocacy groups, backed by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, attempted to portray the justices as liberals who were soft on crime and bad for business.

Williamson, Franklin Special show TCAP gains (Tennessean/Giordano)
School-by-school data released by the state show students in Williamson County and Franklin Special School District improved in all subject areas. The Tennessee Department of Education on Tuesday released the results of TCAP tests by school. Students in third grade through high school take state standardized tests to show their year-to-year progress. To see the numbers, go to www.tn.gov/education. The state also released the names of schools to be found on its “priority” and “focus” lists. Williamson County and FSSD bypassed the state’s priority list, or list of schools that are among the 5 percent with the lowest overall performance. However, Williamson County had one school make the state’s focus list.

Three city schools receive state ‘focus’ designation (Daily News Journal)
Scores on TCAP standardized tests have resulted in the state designating the city system’s Black Fox, Hobgood and John Pittard elementary schools as “focus schools” because of achievement gaps among student groups. The Tennessee Department of Education defines focus schools as being among the 10 percent of all public schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps among groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and English-language learners. Rutherford County Schools had none of its campuses on the focus schools list.

Two JMCSS schools in bottom 5% for test scores in Tenn. (Jackson Sun)
Two Jackson-Madison County schools rank in the bottom 5 percent in the state for TCAP test scores, according to a list released by the Tennessee Department of Education this week. Two local elementary schools — Lincoln Magnet School for Mathematics and Science, and Jackson Careers and Technology Magnet School — are on the state’s list of 85 Priority Schools. Schools that have the lowest overall performance on the tests are identified as Priority Schools. Another list, called Focus Schools, identifies the 10 percent of schools that have the largest achievement gaps between groups of students. Jackson-Madison County doesn’t have any schools on the Focus list.

Residents near Richland Creek fear fuel spill not contained (Tennessean/Wilson)
A week after a tanker exploded in West Nashville and sent thousands of gallons of fuel into stormwater drains, neighbors near Richland Creek are not convinced the waterway escaped harm. The Richland Creek Watershed Alliance sent a letter to TriStar Transport and state and federal officials outlining its intent to sue the transportation company if the creek is not cleaned within 60 days. In the letter, the group claimed most of the 8,500 gallons of fuel went into Richland Creek, which bends through West Nashville before it flows into the Cumberland River. Last Wednesday, a Tri Star tanker was leaving a fuel depot on Centennial Boulevard when it tipped over, hit an empty parked car and exploded.

CoverKids cutbacks trouble Chattanooga area hospitals (Times Free-Press/Belz)
Faced with deepening cuts, leaders of five Tennessee children’s hospitals met with state officials in Nashville this week, appealing for a voice in budget discussions that impact their doctors and patients. Meanwhile, pediatricians in the state say they are concerned about their patients and their practices’ finances after seeing the impact of state-issued changes to CoverKids — the program that provides free health coverage for children and pregnant women who do not have insurance but make too much to qualify for TennCare. The changes to CoverKids are among a series of recent cost-saving measures made by TennCare and other insurers over the past two years that have hit children’s hospitals’ bottom lines to an unprecedented degree, said Dr. Alan Kohrt, CEO of T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital at Erlanger.

Investigation reveals Lt. Gov. Ramsey’s chief of staff highest paid in nation (WJHL)
Lance Frizzell is highly respected in Tennessee. His accomplishments are impressive. The Army veteran served as a platoon leader in Iraq and received a Bronze Star. He’s an elected Republican Party Committeeman and has more than a decade of service with the State of Tennessee. Frizzell has multiple college degrees, including a law degree, and is a married father of two. A Community Watchdog investigation revealed Frizzell can now add another accolade to his resume: highest paid in the nation. “Good, I’m tickled to death that that is the case,” Lt. Gov. Ramsey said when we told him our findings. “That is the reason we’re a well run state. We hire the best people we can possibly hire. I will defend that all day long.” Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) hired Frizzell as his chief of staff more than three years ago, promoting him from his previous position of communications director.

Coonrippy Brown nominates Haslam for ice bucket challenge (Tennessean/Barnes)
From Keith Urban to the Tennessee Titans, no one is immune to the ALS ice bucket challenge, including a former candidate for governor in the state’s Aug. 7 primary. Mark “Coonrippy” Brown, who campaigned against Gov. Bill Haslam, took the chilling challenge but not before he nominated Haslam, Sen. Lamar Alexander and talk radio host Michael DelGiorno in also taking the challenge. Whether the three will take Brown up on the challenge remains to be seen. Brown has lived most of his life in Sumner County. Divorced with two children, a son who edits the sports section of a local newspaper and a daughter who works for the state, he lives with his elderly parents in Gallatin but spends much of his free time in his cabin, a hand-built house in the woods north of town.

U.S. needs clear objective, Corker says (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Brogdon)
A day after the ISIS extremist group released a filmed execution of an American journalist, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker blamed ineffective U.S. foreign policy for helping create a power vacuum in Syria and Iraq and said President Barack Obama needs a clear objective in the Middle East. The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria on Tuesday posted an Internet video of a masked man using a knife to cut off the head of American journalist James Foley, who was captured in Syria in November 2012. The group also threatened to kill freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, who has been missing for a year. Corker, Tennessee’s junior senator and a former Chattanooga mayor, is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I’m not 45, Corker says Senator, downplays presidential ambitions (TFP/Brogdon)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker called on Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce members Wednesday to seek a unity candidate with big vision for the 2016 Republican presidential primary — right before mentioning his ability to bring people together and make his decades-old vision of Chattanooga a reality. Yet in a candid meeting with Times Free Press reporters and editors, Tennessee’s junior senator and former Chattanooga mayor said he’s not aiming for the White House — but he sure hopes there’s a good candidate out there who will. Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said mixed signals from Corker about a presidential bid may be real, imagined –or Corker may just be playing good politics.

Lenda Sherrell tries to turn DesJarlais’ district blue (Tennessean/Cass)
Picking up the phone to invite a potential voter to a campaign event, Lenda Sherrell has to explain who she is. “Democrat,” she says after a pause. “Congress,” she replies to another question. Then, sitting next to workers at her headquarters here, Sherrell gets to the heart of the matter. “Your biggest responsibility will be when we start voting in October,” she tells the woman. Another pause. “Well, we’re going to have a solid choice, that’s for sure.” Name recognition is a work in progress for Sherrell, the Democratic nominee in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District, which Republican Scott DesJarlais has represented for the past four years.

States Clear Way for Crowdfunding (Stateline)
Creating a startup company takes a lot of time and effort. It also takes money, which is something that entrepreneurs like Henry Schwartz know all too well. Schwartz is co-founder and president of MobCraft Beer, a craft brewery in Madison, Wisconsin. His company recently became the first in his state to get approval from regulators to use crowdfunding to raise money from a large number of small investors online. It’s allowed under a new state law aimed at helping startup ventures. “I think it’s awesome the state passed this law,” said Schwartz, 26. “There’s such a capital crunch in Wisconsin and people are a little apprehensive to invest in startups. So this is a great way for companies to start the first round, and then be able to attract some higher dollar-amount investors down the road.”

TVA plans record capital spending but small modular reactors wait (TFP/Flessner)
TVA directors today will consider plans for a record capital budget of nearly $3 billion for fiscal 2015 to boost generation from new nuclear and gas plants and to clean up some of its existing coal-fired units. But TVA won’t spend much of its own money on plans for a pair of new small modular reactors proposed to be built in Oak Ridge. Nuclear power proponents had hoped smaller nuclear designs would limit risks and costs and lead to a nuclear renaissance in America. But the leading developer of the next generation of smaller reactors has slowed its development efforts after failing to attract investors for the project.

TVA board to vote on replacing Memphis coal plant (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s board is scheduled to vote on a proposal to retire the coal-fired Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis and replace it with a natural gas facility. TVA’s board is scheduled to meet Thursday in Knoxville. The utility said in July that it completed a draft environmental assessment looking at replacing the Allen plant. TVA committed to install emission controls or retire Allen’s coal units by December 2018 under a 2011 agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce emissions across its coal-fired generating fleet. Environmental groups say the Allen plant causes a pollution hazard and it should be shut down and replaced with a facility that generates cleaner energy.

Corker: Volkswagen expansion in Chattanooga was off if UAW won (TFP/Pare)
While the United Auto Workers says its Chattanooga local has signed up more than 670 Volkswagen workers, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Wednesday that the VW plant expansion would not have happened had the union won the factory’s February election. “What I know for a fact … the announcement would not have occurred for a lot of reasons,” Corker said. “Plenty of people in Germany understood the impact.” One reason Corker cited was concerns raised by Republican state lawmakers about the UAW and the election process at the plant. “Look at where the General Assembly was,” the former Chattanooga mayor said.

Kellogg asks judge to set aside injunction (Commercial Appeal/Risher)
Kellogg Co. has asked a federal judge to lift or modify an injunction that’s thwarting a goal of reducing costs at its Memphis cereal plant. The Battle Creek cereal maker argues it would be “irreparably harmed” if it can’t pursue wage and staffing proposals through continued labor negotiations or impasse procedures. U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays issued the injunction July 30 ending the Michigan company’s nine-month-old lockout of about 220 workers. The injunction was designed to prevent further harm to employees while the company dukes it out with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over unfair labor practice charges. The employees went back to work last week, but not before the company won the first round in the NLRB proceeding.

Knox teacher likely to resign instead of being terminated (News-Sentinel/McCoy)
A Knox County teacher who has been placed on administrative leave with pay and told she has been recommended for termination by her principal in May said on Wednesday she “felt like she was under a microscope.” “Students performed well and I did my best at my job and that apparently wasn’t good enough,” said Cara Hale, a teacher at Fountain City Elementary, who went on paid leave Aug. 4. Hale, 35, said she received paperwork during a meeting in May that said she was being recommended for termination. She said she plans to resign instead of being labeled with a termination and possibly having her teaching license revoked by the state.

 
OPINION

Columnist: Tenn Just Passed Law That Will Improve Higher Education (Mic)
This year, Tennessee has become the first and only state in the entire country to guarantee two full years of tuition-free education at community and technical colleges. Students leaving high school in 2015 will be the first to benefit from Tennessee Promise, which Republican Gov. Bill Haslam explained in an op-ed on WBIR that he hopes will boost the number of college-bound Tennessee students by 15% over just 5 years. To keep their free ride, students will need to maintain a 2.0 GPA, meet with mentors and coordinators and perform a small amount of community service. Think Progress reports it will cost around $34 million a year, and since it was funded out of state lottery holdings and a $47 million endowment, it won’t cost taxpayers much at all.

Editorial: Efforts to get excellent teachers in classrooms are making difference (CA)
Improvements in the test scores of the Shelby County schools that are in the bottom 5 percent of schools in Tennessee are an encouraging sign that the effort to get better principals and teachers into failing schools is having a positive impact. The test results released Tuesday showed that 50 schools in the Shelby County Schools district rank among the lowest-performing 5 percent — down from 69 schools two years ago. That is a positive. The other good news is that 15 schools improved enough to come off the state’s priority list. Seventeen others, however, including four charter schools, are now on the priority list and are in line for a state takeover or closure. The good news is obviously tempered by the fact that 50 local schools are still in trouble and four charter schools, which are supposed to use innovative teaching methods to help students achieve, are not making the grade. But we agree with state Achievement School District Supt. Chris Barbic that the progress being made is a result of education reform efforts to get better principals and teachers into failing schools. The ASD was created by the Tennessee General Assembly to bring the state’s lowest-performing schools into the top 25 percent within five years.

Editorial: Universities need to review pay, benefits systems (Daily News Journal)
Middle Tennessee State University and other Board of Regents institutions should act expeditiously to develop or adopt a tracking system for part-time workers’ hours. At issue is whether the workers’ hours exceed 29 hours, which would require the university to provide benefits, particularly medical insurance, to the workers. MTSU officials have decided to stop graduate assistants, adjunct faculty member and resident assistants from taking additional work assignments on campus because such additional work might put them in excess of the 29 hours. Although hourly employment is easy to track in regard to the number of hours worked since pay depends on the number of hours worked, compensation for adjuncts and teaching and graduate assistants takes more the form of a stipend with no specific hour requirements.

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