October 31 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee Promise’s Biggest Accomplishment: Adding ‘Free’ To College (WPLN)

A small swarm of teenagers and parents are lining up in front of Sydny Simpson, with the Volunteer State Community College admissions office. “Here is a refrigerator magnet for you,” she says. “If you want to join that tour group right there, we’ll get going in just a second.” After the tour, the high school seniors grab seats in the library’s computer lab. Staff members guide them through the Tennessee Promise application, and everyone there says something similar to Erin Drexler, a homeschooled high school senior. “I mean, why not? It’s free,” Drexler says. “And college is not cheap.” “Who doesn’t like free?” says Helen Byrd, a parent who is sitting nearby. They’re echoing a sentiment from Governor Bill Haslam as he unveiled Tennessee Promise earlier this year.

Half Of TN Promise Students Already Eligible For Fed College Funding (WPLN)

About half of the students attending community college under Tennessee Promise next fall will get their tuition paid by the federal government, according to state estimates. Those students could have already gone to school tuition-free, even without Tennessee Promise. Low-income college students are eligible for the Pell grant from the U.S. Department of Education each year. At $5,550, it more than covers the cost of community college in Tennessee. But many students don’t know this help exists, says Mike Krause, executive director of Tennessee Promise. “When you have a low-income, first-generation college student … they don’t know that their low-income status actually puts them in a position to receive a substantial amount of financial aid,” Krause says.

Tennessee Promise registration deadline Saturday (Columbia Daily Herald)

Tennessee high school seniors seeking free college tuition and those adults wanting to help them through their first year of higher education have until Saturday to register for the Tennessee Promise program. The program pays tuition for two years for students who enroll at a state community college or technical college. So far, Maury County has recruited 132 mentors, which is over the 80 they were originally seeking, according tnAchieves Executive Director Krissy DeAlejandro. State officials said about two-thirds of Tennessee’s graduating seniors have applied. The program also calls for adult volunteers to help groups of high school seniors through the school application process and meeting deadlines.

Report card shows better ACT scores (Times Free-Press/Omarzu)

More Tennessee high school seniors are graduating, and they’re doing better on the ACT test. There’s also improvement statewide on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). The percentage of students who scored in the “advanced” category on the test climbed in seven out of 11 categories. Those were some highlights of the annual Report Card released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Education. The state department emailed a link to the online report at 4:59 p.m. Chattanooga time, which didn’t give local school officials much time for analysis and feedback. “I think we did well,” Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said. “We’re not disappointed.”

City, county systems score well on state report cards (Daily News Journal)

Students in Rutherford County and Murfreesboro City schools continue to perform higher than their peers across Tennessee, according to the state Department of Education’s annual Report Card. Released Wednesday, the report provides a look at all public schools and districts in Tennessee. Data included in the report includes performance on annual state assessments for students in grades 3-12, demographics and ACT scores. For the second year in a row, both districts achieved straight A’s on the report card on the assessment portion of the report card, which measured learning in math, reading, science and social studies for grades 3-8 during the 2013-14 academic year.

Report card delivers trove of school data (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

In Shelby County, 74.6 percent of the class of 2014 graduated in four years or less, compared to the state average of 86.3 percent, according to the state report card released late Thursday. Eleven percent of the senior class has at least a 50-percent chance of earning a B or better in their first year of college, based on their ACT scores. Statewide, 16 percent of seniors met the mark. The annual report card offers a trove of information on the state’s K-12 schools in an easy-to-use format that gives anyone with a computer access to the data and the ability to make comparisons between schools.

Mixed results for local schools on state report card (Jackson Sun)

The Tennessee Department of Education released state report cards for school districts and individual schools on Thursday. The report cards examine students’ achievement and growth on TCAP and other standardized tests, among other data. According to the report, Jackson-Madison County Schools rate among the “least effective” in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System. The value-added system is a statistical analysis that measures the impact of districts, schools and teachers on students’ academic progress from one year to the next. School districts were rated on a scale of 1 to 5 — with 1 being “least effective” — based on a composite of students’ performance on statewide tests in the 2013-14 school year.

CMCSS holds steady scores on state report card (Leaf Chronicle)

The state Department of Education released its annual report card on Tennessee school districts Thursday. The test results come from the TCAP ACHIEVE for third through eighth grade which is administered at the end of April each school year. High Schools do not receive letter grades, but receive status scores that represent the results of the TCAP End of Course Assessment at administered the end of May. In achievement, CMCSS scored the same as last year with three A’s in math, science and social studies and one B in reading. In value-added or growth data, CMCSS reported an A in math; a C in reading; a C in science; and an A in social studies. Kimi Sucharski, district data analyst, noted that a grade of “C” indicates that students performed at the expected target. An “A” or “B” indicates that students performed above the expected target.

New trail improves access to Pogue Creek Canyon (News-Sentinel/Simmons)

Public access to a 3,000-acre state natural area on the Cumberland Plateau is much improved thanks to a new hiking trail. Gov. Bill Haslam recently joined staff from the Tennessee Division of Natural Areas and the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation to dedicate a new trail at Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural. The 1.75-mile trail is the first developed hiking trail to be built in tract that The Nature Conservancy sold to the state in 2006. Located in Fentress County next to Pickett State Park and Pickett State Forest, Pogue Creek Canyon features some of the most scenic canyon country on the Cumberland Plateau. Some of the sandstone formations resemble mesas in the southwestern U.S., and the stream gorges are thickly forested with eastern hemlock, wild magnolia and rhododendron.

Beretta to hold information fair for job seekers (Tennessean)

Job seekers interested in working at Beretta USA’s Gallatin facility can learn about positions available at an information fair Nov. 7 at Volunteer State Community College. The gun manufacturer broke ground in late August on a 156,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in the Gallatin Industrial Center. The company hopes eventually to employ about 300 workers. It is expected to begin production next summer. There will be four sessions — at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. — at the information fair where officials will speak about Beretta’s company culture and how to apply for jobs.

Teen suicides raise questions about how DCS trains staff (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

New details have emerged in internal records that provide a window into a series of missteps preceding the suicides of two youths at an East Tennessee juvenile facility. Brandon Greene, 16, and Frank Cass Jr. 18, committed suicide within a three-week span at Mountain View Youth Development Center, a facility for delinquent teen boys. Both youths were found hanging from metal shelves in their rooms. Juvenile justice experts say the deaths raise questions about how well the agency trains staff and oversees care of children under its watch, particularly children with a history of mental health issues or who pose a risk for suicide.

$400M in road projects delayed in Tenn. (Associated Press)

The uncertainty of federal funding has led Tennessee’s highway director to delay road projects worth $400 million. The Tennessean reports 12 construction projects and 21 right of way acquisitions were supposed to be complete by Sept. 30, 2015; now they will have to wait until fiscal year 2016 Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer sent lawmakers a letter(PDF) on Friday to notify them of the change. Schroer says while Congress has approved enough funding to continue road projects through May, it hasn’t completed a full six-year highway bill. He says state transportation officials rely on the bill for revenue for long-term projects. The 33 stalled projects include an Interstate 55 interchange in Shelby County and a truck climbing lane on I-40 east in Dickson and Williamson counties.

TDOT delays $400 million worth of road projects to 2016 (Tennessean/Troyan)

Tennessee’s highway director has delayed $400 million in road projects until fiscal 2016 because of uncertainty over future federal funding. John Schroer, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, notified state lawmakers in a Friday letter that the 12 construction projects and 21 right-of-way acquisitions were supposed to be finished in fiscal 2015, which ends on Sept. 30 next year. “While these projects are only delayed and not canceled, they represent almost $400 million in transportation investments that could be helping to modernize our transportation network and reducing congestion and making Tennessee a more attractive destination for economic expansion,” Schroer wrote Friday.

State board takes no action on AP U.S. History test (Tennessean/Boucher)

The state Board of Education heard Thursday from a small contingent of supporters and critics of the new Advanced Placement U.S. History course, but took no action regarding the discussion. Jane Robbins, of the conservative advocacy group American Principles Project, was the lone detractor to discuss the new course work. Robbins echoed some of the national criticism of the course, saying the new framework is “leftist” and focuses too much on negative aspects of U.S. history as opposed to “heroes.” Trevor Packer, a senior vice president for The College Board who helped develop the new course framework, said Robbins’ criticism was “absurd.”

MTSU receives $195K grant to promote women in science, math (Tenn/Barnes)

Middle Tennessee State University received a $195,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to further the advancement of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. The study, titled “A Catalyst to ADVANCE the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academics, STEM Careers at Middle Tennessee State University,” will focus on identifying barriers that affect recruitment, retention, participation and promotion of women STEM faculty at MTSU. STEM faculty members come from the colleges of Basic and Applied Sciences and Liberal Arts. “I’m certain this will be successful,” MTSU President Sidney McPhee said in a press release. “The teamwork across interdisciplinary areas of campus reflects our commitment in working together.”

Flinn loans his state Senate campaign $90,000  (Commercial Appeal/Veazey)

George Flinn loaned his campaign for state Senate $90,000 on Oct. 10, according to recently filed financial disclosures. Flinn, a Republican, is running against Democrat Sara Kyle in the special election in District 30, which is thought to lean Democratic. Flinn has spent millions in futile bids for Congress in recent years. Kyle raised $28,100 in the period covering Oct. 1-25 and spent $19,864, bringing her cash balance (when factoring in her starting balance) to $14,766. Flinn, a local radiologist and radio station owner, gave his campaign $20,000 on Sept. 19. Flinn had $45,531 left to spend on the race as of Oct. 25. Flinn spent more than $70,000 in October at local firm Caissa Public Strategy, and his contributions include $1,000 from a political action committee associated with State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.

Early voting turnout down 17 percent statewide (Tennessean/Daniels)

Early voting, which concludes at 8 p.m. continues to trail recent elections, but has improved since the first week. Through Wednesday’s totals, voting is down statewide by 17 percent from 2010, according to the Secretary of State’s election website. Whether voters are waiting longer to make a decision because the four constitutional amendments on the ballot, or there is widespread disinterest because of the lack of sexy, competitive races will be determined at the polls Tuesday. “While there has been a steady trend toward early voting, we think voters may be taking longer to make up their minds this year,” said Blake Fontenay, communications director for the Secretary of State. “We have seen voting totals increase steadily each day.” Davidson County is a good example. During the first five days of early voting 2,546 ballots were cast.

Early voting numbers slightly below 2010 figures (Times Free-Press/Brogdon)

Despite a slow start, early voting in Hamilton County picked up by the end. There was a line to the door at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Northgate Mall early voting location, next to the Old Navy. Will Coulter said he waited 40 minutes to cast his ballot. And it was worth the wait. “The Senate race and the congressional race, that’s really important. And Amendment 1, that’s really important to a lot of people,” he said. “I just always get out and vote.” Along with municipal elections, Hamilton County residents are voting on the gubernatorial race, which Gov. Bill Haslam is widely expected to win, along with races in the U.S. Senate and the state’s 3rd Congressional District in the Nov. 4 election.

More than $4 million spent this month on Amendment 1 (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Opponents of the proposed Tennessee constitutional amendment on abortion have outspent supporters this month by more than 3-to-1, according to new financial disclosures. From Oct. 1 through Oct. 25, the Vote No on 1 organization unleashed $3.43 million in spending, including some $1.95 million for television advertising, according to the group’s disclosure with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. The Yes on 1 group, meanwhile, spent $1.04 million in their battle to give the state Legislature new powers to regulate abortion. Proponents claim enacting the amendment would restore protections for women stripped from the Tennessee Constitution by a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling. Opponents say it would insert politics in a decision that belongs to women, their families and physicians. The Vote No on 1 committee reported more than $2 million in contributions from Oct. 1 to Oct 25. Most of the money came from Planned Parenthood organizations in Tennessee, Florida, California and Massachusetts. A Washington state group gave $750,000.

Abortion-rights advocates: Amendment 1 could devastate (Tennessean/Tamburin)

Days before a vote that could open the door to a wave of new abortion restrictions, abortion-rights advocates invited the media into a Planned Parenthood clinic to combat what they called “false and misleading information” coming from their opponents. Passage of Amendment 1 on Tuesday would allow lawmakers to enact new abortion restrictions, including clinic regulations that Tennessee courts have found to be unconstitutional in the past. Amendment 1 backers say added regulations are necessary to protect the health and safety of women and girls. During an after-hours tour of the Planned Parenthood clinic on Dr. DB Todd Jr. Boulevard, Jeff Teague said abortions are “one of the safest medical procedures a woman can receive.”

Alexander, Corker to host Ebola roundtable (Associated Press)

U.S. Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker will host a roundtable discussion in Chattanooga on Ebola preparedness. The event is scheduled for 2 to 3:15 p.m. on Friday at the CHI Memorial Hospital. Alexander and Corker will meet with local health officials and medical experts to discuss how prepared the state is in case of an Ebola virus outbreak. Earlier this month, the Tennessee Hospital Association, Tennessee Medical Association and Tennessee Nurses Association issued a joint statement saying they’re on heightened awareness for anyone showing up in their emergency rooms and physicians’ offices who exhibit symptoms similar to the Ebola virus.

Lamar Alexander splurges on advertising blitz (Tennessean/Troyan)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, trying to fend off a wealthy, self-financed Democratic challenger, spent more than $548,000 during the first two weeks of October, mostly on an advertising blitz. The splurge put a dent in Alexander’s campaign account, which typically doesn’t dip below seven figures. He had $767,787 left as of Oct. 15, according to his latest Federal Election Commission report. Alexander is running for a third term against Democrat Gordon Ball. Ball reported $728,940 left in his account as of Oct. 15. He has loaned his campaign about $1.4 million. Between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15, Alexander’s campaign spent $459,691 producing and airing TV ads. Five days after the media buy, his campaign started airing a negative ad that calls Ball a “slick-talking” lawyer. His campaign’s final ad, which doesn’t mention Ball, started airing statewide Monday.

From Governors, a Mix of Hard-Line Acts and Conciliation Over Ebola (NY Times)

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, issued a stern warning on Thursday to medical experts coming to an international conference on tropical diseases that they should stay away if they had been in Ebola-affected countries in the past 21 days, and that those who defied would be confined to their hotel rooms. But in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, who last week called for mandatory quarantines for health care workers returning from West Africa, sounded a more conciliatory note, joining Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce financial incentives to encourage health professionals to go to West Africa to treat Ebola patients. And here in Maine, Gov. Paul R. LePage, a Republican, said he was simply trying to enforce federal guidelines when he called for quarantining a nurse who recently returned from Sierra Leone.

A disputed “F” patient safety grade for a Memphis hospital (C. Appeal/McKenzie)

In the competitive landscape for hospitals in Memphis, receiving an “F” from a national organization grading hospital safety isn’t good — particularly when six other hospitals received an “A.” The Regional Medical Center, the flagship hospital of Regional One Health system, received the failing grade in the fall Hospital Safety Score grades calculated by a Washington-based nonprofit organization called The Leapfrog Group. Only 26 of 2,520 hospitals nationwide, or about 1 percent, received an “F.” But Regional One Health officials said that problems including missing data, old information and subjective questions helped produce a grade that doesn’t fit reality for a hospital that known for its trauma, burn, high-risk births and neonatal intensive care areas.

Yennie predicts Common Core will be defunct in Tennessee by January (T-N)

Common Core Standards will be dead in Tennessee by early next year, Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie predicted Thursday. “Common Core will be gone by Jan. 15,” Yennie said. And county Board of Education member Michael Hughes predicted a mass exodus from public schools in Northeast Tennessee and statewide if parental concerns about Common Core, Islam in middle school curriculum and similar issues aren’t addressed soon. Near the end of a 2.5-hour work session, the board went head first into a discussion about Common Core and Islam, both hot topics in education circles. BOE members Michael Hughes of Bluff City and Vice Chairman Jack Bales of Sullivan Gardens said they attended a recent anti-Common Core meeting, which drew about 400 people to Avoca Christian Church in Bristol, Tenn.




Columnist: Outsiders funding Amendment 1 fight (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Tennessee is under attack. The invaders come from California, Massachusetts, Florida and New York, with the biggest barrage from the Great Northwest. Seattle, specifically. Their air war is coordinated by an outfit from just outside Washington, D.C. They are bombing us with bucks, raining millions of dollars on the Volunteer State to influence an election. The weapons of mass donations are deployed by a firm that fights for Democrats. Ultimately, they want to keep the war of the womb tilted against the unborn. The “Vote No on One” campaign committee in Tennessee was proved in the latest campaign disclosures to be merely a front organization, essentially, for Planned Parenthood, America’s leading abortion provider. Planned Parenthood is going all out to protect its interests as Tennessee goes to the polls next week to vote on Amendment 1. Amendment 1 would return the power to regulate abortion to the state Legislature, where the representatives of the people can do the will of the people. Planned Parenthood organizations from around the country poured more than $2 million into the “Vote No on One” committee in October.