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September 19 TN News Digest

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

Summit focuses on education changes in Tennessee (Associated Press/Johnson)
After holding a state education summit, Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he plans to hold more discussions about education changes in Tennessee, particularly on the Common Core standards. The Republican governor, along with the Legislature’s Republican House and Senate speakers, convened the summit to review the ongoing education overhaul in Tennessee and plan for the future. Elected officials, business leaders and representatives from about 24 organizations attended. They talked about the Common Core standards, accountability in education and school choice.

Haslam defends education standards at Tennessee’s Education Summit (TFP/Sher)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is trying to hit the reset button on the debate over Tennessee’s controversial Common Core standards after state lawmakers last spring forced him to back off plans to use one group’s assessments and bid out development of new tests. Haslam’s forum was an “education summit” on Thursday in which he, the House and Senate Republican speakers, other lawmakers, educators and business representatives reviewed various major changes and strides Tennessee has made in education that have won the state national recognition. The summit also sought to address concerns and charges by critics, a group of whom demonstrated against Common Core across the street from the downtown Nashville hotel where the summit was held.

Haslam’s Invitation-Only Education Summit Aims To Moderate Tone (WPLN-Radio)
Anti-Common Core protesters rallied outside of Governor Bill Haslam’s invitation-only summit on education Thursday. Inside, the governor attempted to quiet critics of the education standards and other recent reforms. The agenda was tightly guarded prior to the event, and presenters were friendly to the administration’s position on education. But Haslam did invite participants who’ve done battle with his administration. Around the table were superintendents who’ve expressed a lack of confidence in Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, the teachers union which is suing over the use of student test data in evaluations and conservative lawmakers like state Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) who’ve argued against Common Core.

Summit previews next round of Common Core fight (Tennessean/Garrison)
Tennessee’s tug-of-war over Common Core surfaced Thursday at a gathering of state lawmakers and education stakeholders hosted by Gov. Bill Haslam, previewing a likely contentious struggle ahead when the 109th General Assembly convenes in four months. Backers of Common Core, primarily educators invited by the Republican governor, used an inaugural “Education Summit” at a downtown Nashville hotel to push hard for new standardized testing that fully aligns with the academic standards that have phased into Tennessee classrooms since 2010. But that was countered by a smattering of Common Core dissent from a few conservative lawmakers also there — folks like Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, who want to dump the standards outright and design an entirely new model.

Haslam to swear in Holly Kirby of Memphis to Supreme Court Friday (AP)
Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Holly Kirby, the court’s newest member, will take the oath of office during an investiture ceremony in Memphis this week. Gov. Bill Haslam, who appointed Kirby to the Supreme Court, will administer the oath at 10:15 a.m. Friday in the Historic Courtroom on the third floor of the University of Memphis School of Law. A reception will follow. Kirby, of Memphis, was the first woman to serve on the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which she joined in 1995. She is also the first graduate of the University of Memphis School of Law to serve on the Supreme Court.

Lee promises ‘top to bottom review’ of state judiciary (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam has sworn in newly elected Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee. After the formal investiture ceremony in Knoxville on Wednesday, Lee said her goals for the judiciary include a “top to bottom review” to find ways for the courts to deliver services more efficiently and effectively. In addition, she noted the need for better technology, including implementing electronic filing systems. In her speech, Lee also acknowledged the failed campaign led by Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey to oust her and two other Democratic justices, who make up a majority on the five-member court. She said it highlighted the need for a fair and impartial court system.

LaunchTN to connect entrepreneurs, corporate pain points (Nashville Post)
Launch Tennessee will next month host an event that looks to connect funded corporate projects to entrepreneurs of all stripes. The Reverse Pitch program will be held at The Church on Main in Chattanooga and will feature eight organizations — AC Entertainment (the organizers of Bonnaroo), FedEx and Unum among them — outlining pain points they want addressed. Launch Tennessee officials say they are recruiting “a selective audience of problem solvers from across Tennessee with the necessary skill sets and experience (i.e. developers, programmers, engineers, designers, marketers and hackers of all kinds).”

Launch Tennessee reversing the pitch process (Nashville Business Journal)
Public-private economic development partnership Launch Tennessee will host the state’s first Reverse Pitch event next month in Chattanooga. At the Oct. 7 event, eight corporations will pitch funded project proposals to an audience of “entrepreneurial problem solvers,” according to a news release. After the event, an online submission portal will give candidates interested in pursuing each project the opportunity to connect with the groups who pitched. Corporations and organizations slated to pitch include AC Entertainment/Aloompa, The Blackstone Group, the City of Chattanooga, EPB, FedEx, PlayCore, Smith & Nephew and Unum, according to the release.

Jobless rates continue rise in Tennessee, Georgia (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
Unemployment rose in August for a fourth consecutive month across both Tennessee and Georgia. Despite a decline in the U.S. unemployment rate, joblessness rose last month by three-tenths of a percentage point in Tennessee to 7.4 percent and jumped four-tenths of a percentage point in Georgia to 8.1 percent. Nationwide, the unemployment rate in August fell by a tenth of a percent to 6.1 percent. Georgia Labor Commissioner Mike Butler said jobs continued to grow while unemployment claims fell in August across the Peach State so he questioned the reliability of the initial unemployment rate estimate.

Tennessee Unemployment Rises to 7.4 Percent (Memphis Daily News)
Tennessee’s unemployment rate ticked slightly higher in August from its level in July, while remaining a percentage point lower than August 2013. The state preliminary unemployment rate for August was 7.4 percent, up from the 7.1 percent July revised rate, according to Tennessee Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips. The U.S. preliminary rate for August was 6.1 percent, down from 6.2 percent in July. Over the past year, Tennessee’s unemployment rate decreased from 8.4 percent to 7.4 percent while the national rate declined from 7.2 percent to 6.1 percent. Total nonfarm employment increased by 6,700 jobs from July to August.

“Books From Birth” Visits Grundy County (Grundy County Herald)
The Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) “Books from Birth 10th Anniversary Tour” hit the road last week and will be pulling into Grundy County on Wednesday, September 23 at 12:00 p.m. at Tracy City Elementary School. The forty-five foot decorated touring coach will visit more than 50 Tennessee counties during its tour and concluding at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville on September 30. The “Books from Birth 10th Anniversary Tour” is being made possible in part through the generous support of the program’s bus tour partner, Delta Dental of Tennessee. The purpose of the “Books from Birth 10th Anniversary Tour” is to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Tennessee and the more than 20 million books mailed to children since the program began.

New Chief Justice Echoes Haslam Mantra on Review (Associated Press/Schelzig)
First, the state Supreme Court hired Gov. Bill Haslam’s top legal adviser as Tennessee’s next attorney general. Now the high court’s new chief justice is also adopting the Republican governor’s rhetoric. Haslam, who has made a “top to bottom review” of state government a catchphrase of his first term in office, on Wednesday presided over Sharon Lee’s investiture as chief justice of the state’s highest court. Lee, who spearheaded the attorney general interview process that led to the selection Monday of longtime Haslam friend and adviser Herbert Slatery, announced that she would also seek a “top to bottom review” of the judiciary and try to make the courts more business friendly.

Death row inmates contest Tennessee electric chair law (Associated Press/Loller)
Ten death row inmates already challenging Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol were permitted by a judge Thursday to amend their lawsuit to include objections to the use of the electric chair. The General Assembly passed a law earlier this year allowing prisoners to be electrocuted if Tennessee Department of Correction officials were unable to obtain the drug used for lethal injection. Before that, prisoners could not be forced to die by the electric chair, although they were allowed to choose that method under some circumstances. The death row plaintiffs say the new law violates the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions. Among other things, they say it violates evolving standards of decency. They also say that the law is too vague. And they question whether the state’s electric chair actually operates as it is supposed to.

After Supreme Court fight, Ramsey takes a quieter role (Tennessean/Haas)
Those expecting a knock-down, drag-out fight from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on Tennessee’s upcoming Amendment 2 vote may be disappointed. It looks as if he got what he wanted. Fresh off an intense but losing battle to oust three out of five Tennessee Supreme Court justices, Ramsey has refrained from expressing strong views on the amendment. Amendment 2, if passed, would explicitly state that appellate and Supreme Court judges be selected by the governor, be approved by the legislature and then face retention elections. That’s essentially how things work now, but it’s been subject to legal challenges for years. In contrast to the heavy lifting he did in the retention election, Ramsey said this week that he had no plans to actively campaign for Amendment 2, though he has publicly supported it.

Alexander, Corker honored by business association (Associated Press)
U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are being honored by the nation’s leading small business association. The National Federation of Independent Business has named the Tennessee Republicans a Guardian of Small Business for their voting record on behalf of America’s small-business owners. NFIB’s “How Congress Voted,” which serves as a report card for members of Congress, was also unveiled this week. The report presents key small-business votes and voting percentages for each lawmaker. Those voting favorably on key small-business issues at least 70 percent of the time during the 113th Congress are eligible for the Guardian award.

Corker has sharp exchange with secretary of state (Associated Press)
Tennessee’s Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, is vocally criticizing President Barack Obama’s plan to train Syrian rebels for a war against Islamic state militants in the Middle East. Corker in a Wednesday committee hearing confronted Secretary of State John Kerry over what he called the “unserious” rhetoric and lack of details about the proposal. Corker noted that no other country in the region has agreed to send in ground troops and called the administration plan a “political answer” to public outrage to the brutality of the Islamic State militants. Corker ended up voting for the final version of the bill that passed the Senate Thursday evening.

DOE contractor agrees to replace failed Biomass Steam Plant at ORNL (NS/Munger)
The U.S. Department of Energy has reached agreement with its energy-savings contractor to replace the failed Biomass Steam Plant at Oak Ridge National Laboratory with a new high-efficiency unit fueled by natural gas. Johnny Moore, DOE’s on-site manager at ORNL, said the modified contract with Johnson Controls protects taxpayer interests and should provide a long-term solution to the lab’s steam needs. “Our premise was we’ve got to have steam to deliver to the plant, and it was our goal to come up with a solution that was of least cost to the taxpayer,” Moore said in a telephone interview. He said he’s confident that the decision to switch to a natural gas system will prove successful.

‘Project Velcro’ picks Louisville over Nashville (Nashville Business Journal)
A financial services company has chosen Louisville, not Nashville, as the city where it initially will create up to 250 jobs. Computershare evaluated potential offices in the downtowns of both cities under the code name “Project Velcro,” including Nashville’s UBS Tower, according to multiple real estate sources. A spokeswoman for the company tells Louisville Business First that Computershare chose Louisville because of its “relatively low real estate costs, limited exposure to extreme weather and potential natural disasters, and access to an eager, educated labor pool.”

 

OPINION

Editorial: State sends mixed signals about paying for higher education (DNJ)
Costs of higher education continue to be a concern in Tennessee, and state officials are taking an interesting approach is trying to address the problem — instruction in financial literacy for students in elementary and middle schools. While some supporters of higher education in the state might call for the General Assembly to increase funding for post-secondary education or even meet earlier funding commitments, the new state program is teaching money management and the importance of savings to young students. Financial literacy is an important component of a well-rounded education, but the state government seems to be sending something of mixed signals in regard to financing post-secondary education.

Editorial: The loss of ed. grad students is one of new realities of ed. Reform (CA)
One consequence of efforts to place exceptional teachers in classrooms is playing out at the University of Memphis, which has lost hundreds of education graduate students to alternative teacher certificate programs. Beyond the loss of revenue for the U of M, the trend raises an interesting question of whether the drop in the number of teachers seeking graduate degrees will have a long-term negative impact on teacher quality. Education reformers say no. Teacher advocates and teachers say yes. Much of the education reform effort across the state has focused on getting effective teachers into classrooms as a way to improve student achievement.

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