December 4 TN News Digest

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

Haslam at 70 percent approval in new poll (Tennessean/Boucher)

Gov. Bill Haslam earned a 70 percent approval rating in the latest poll from Vanderbilt University, his highest rating recorded by the school and far higher than other well-known politicians in Tennessee. While the Knoxville Republican said governors should pursue policy goals regardless of ratings, Haslam acknowledged the high poll marks and his recent landslide re-election could buy political capital with the state legislature. “I hope it buys you some credibility. I would hope that, that the people say the voters of Tennessee like what we’re doing. So I definitely hope it buys some credibility,” Haslam said. Haslam earned a 57 percent approval rating from Democrats, 67 percent approval from Independents and 86 percent approval from Republicans.

Vanderbilt Poll: Residents favor Haslam, Medicaid expansion (Commercial Appeal)

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam’s popularity is soaring, President Obama’s has dipped and a majority of Tennesseans favor expanding Medicaid to make health coverage available to more lower-income working people. Those are among findings in the new statewide Vanderbilt University Poll released Wednesday by the university’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. The biannual poll, conducted for Vanderbilt by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,201 adult Tennesseans Nov. 11-20 on both landline and cellphones, including 949 registered voters. The poll found that 56 percent of Tennessee registered voters favor Medicaid expansion, a provision of the federal Affordable Care Act that would make 165,000 more low-income residents in the state eligible for health insurance.

Poll: Tennesseans approve of Haslam, legislature (Associated Press)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Tennesseans approve of their elected officials but want them to work with members of the other party, even if it means compromising on some of their values and priorities, according to a new poll from Vanderbilt University. The survey of about 950 registered Tennessee voters was taken just after the November election. Seventy percent of respondents said they approved of Gov. Bill Haslam and 55 percent approved of the Tennessee legislature. But voters’ priorities for the legislature differed somewhat from those that lawmakers have put forward. Forty percent of respondents said the economy should be the top priority, followed by education and health care. Only 2 percent said guns were the top priority. A full 77 percent said they wanted their legislators to compromise with members of the other party.

Vanderbilt political poll sheds lights on Tennesseans’ opinions (WSMV-TV)

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) – A poll conducted by Vanderbilt University’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions shows the biggest issues according to Tennessee residents. Vanderbilt’s political poll shows that 77 percent of respondents want Republicans and Democrats to work together. Only 19 percent said politicians should stick to the party gap and not budge. Only 38 percent supported Common Core standards. Twenty-five percent of Republicans support the educational standards, while 54 percent of Democrats support them. In fact, more Democrats approve of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam than they do of Common Core. Haslam has a 70-percent approval rating, according to the poll. The number is much higher than many other governors considering presidential runs.

Haslam heads to D.C. for higher education conference (Tennessean)

Gov. Bill Haslam will join President Barack Obama in Washington Thursday for a summit focused on boosting college enrollment and graduation. The White House College Opportunity Summit will bring together leaders from universities, businesses and nonprofits across the country. Discussion at the summit is expected to pivot around building relationships between K-12 schools and colleges and universities. Advocates will place a special emphasis on higher education opportunities for first-generation, low-income and under-represented students. Two other Tennesseans are traveling to Washington for the summit: Lipscomb University President L. Randolph Lowry and Bob Obrohta, the executive director of the Tennessee College Access and Success Network.

Haslam to attend college summit at White House (Associated Press)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Gov. Bill Haslam is participating in a college summit at the White House. The Republican governor was to join President Barack Obama and the first lady at the White House College Opportunity Summit on Thursday. The event is bringing together colleges and universities, business leaders, nonprofits and others who support more college opportunities for students across the country. During a Rotary Club luncheon in Nashville earlier this week, Haslam touted his program to cover a full ride at two-year colleges for any high school graduate. Called Tennessee Promise, the program 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.

Interview: Haslam On ‘Threading The Needle’ With Medicaid Expansion (WPLN)

Governor Bill Haslam thought he’d have a proposal to offer the legislature by now to expand Medicaid. But because a plan had to be on Tennessee’s terms, it has yet to surface. He now hopes to get something to lawmakers next year, and he’ll be working with a General Assembly that has more Republicans than ever — 101 of the 132 seats are held by GOP legislators. “That’s 101 people all of whom have probably run a campaign — I’m willing to bet somewhere in that campaign they’ve said I think the Affordable Care Act —- aka Obamacare — is a bad plan,” Haslam said. “What we have to come up with is a plan that says this is not really expanding Medicaid as contemplated by the Obama administration. We think there’s a different way to do this.”

Haslam: TDOT, not lawmakers, should have final say on projects (NBJ)

Following the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Wednesday budget hearing for the upcoming fiscal year, Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters he still believes TDOT — not state lawmakers — is best positioned to prioritize what transportation projects the state pursues. When asked by reporters about a bill passed last session on bus rapid-transit projects like the Amp, and the potential of further measures by the General Assembly related to city-levels project, Haslam said he has concerns about the legislature dictating project specifics. “The situation with the Amp has changed and Mayor [Karl] Dean has pulled back on that,” Haslam said. “I’ve always said I have a concern about legislating project priority. I’m not certain that’s the way we want to do that.” “We want to do what’s needed to most,” Haslam said of transportation projects.

TDOT talks cuts at budget hearing (Tennessean)

Governor Bill Haslam did not directly ask Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer at a budget meeting Wednesday where in his department he would come up with the 7 percent cuts Haslam has requested across the board. But Schroer did enumerate ways the department has tried to make the best of decreased funding. “We are quickly becoming a maintenance-only state,” he said, referring to the state’s roads. “It’s just that when we find issues we try to fix them first.” Schroer broke down the cuts and costs by the numbers, explaining early on that the state is ranked in the top four in the country for its roads, but maintains the 13th-lowest gas tax in the nation. Tennesseans have paid 39.8 cents per gallon on their gasoline since 1993, he said. Schroer said one way his department has tried to prepare for potential cuts or less funding from the federal government is to make sure the fixes are as inexpensive as possible, with an “expedited project delivery program.”

TDOT chief: Don’t expect new projects in next budget (Nashville Business Journal)

As the Tennessee Department of Transportation continues to face uncertainty about federal funding, the state’s transportation commissioner Wednesday equated his department’s current job to fixing a leaking roof. “You don’t build an addition on your house if the roof leaks. You fix your roof,” TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said at state budget hearings Wednesday. “We want to make sure our roads are maintained and are as safe as possible.” As he presented TDOT’s $1.8 billion budget plans to Gov. Bill Haslam for the upcoming fiscal year, Schroer reiterated that TDOT’s top priority will be maintaining existing roadways, not new building projects.

Faced with road problems, Haslam weighs whether now is time for new taxes (TFP)

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that without new transportation money Tennessee must soon decide whether to stop building new roads and bridges and simply stick with maintaining those it already has. But the governor told reporters that he hasn’t decided whether 2015 is the year to ask state lawmakers to increase Tennessee’s gas tax — it would be the first one in 25 years — or else pursue new funding mechanisms. Or he might simply wait. “There’s no way the state can continue on the path we’re on now. The math just doesn’t work,” Haslam said. “I’m not saying we’re going to ask the legislature to do it, or they’re going to ask us. We’re evaluating the needs, and is this the right time to do that or not … we obviously don’t want to do that until we have to.” At the same time, the governor said he is “not going to go put a Band-Aid on it and say, ‘Oh good, maybe we’ll get another three, four years down the road.’ We actually want to look at something that is a strategic long-term view.” Tennessee’s gas tax — now set at 21.4 cents per gallon — was last raised in 1989. The same goes for the 18.4 cents per gallon diesel tax.

A gas tax hike in Tennessee? Eventually, says the governor (WPLN)

Governor Bill Haslam says there’s no way around hiking the state’s gas tax sometime in the future. The tax, which hasn’t increased since 1989, is not keeping up with the rising cost of building and maintaining Tennessee’s roads and bridges. Improved fuel efficiency standards and the rise of hybrid and electric cars are a boon to the environment, but the governor says they hurt gas taxes. What’s more, Haslam says federal transportation funding is always uncertain, noting that Congress’ temporary fixes on the federal highway fund make it tricky to plan long-term projects. Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer echoed the worry over the unpredictability of federal support, calling the situation “disconcerting” during TDOT’s budget meeting on Wednesday.

Education budget hearings Friday (Tennessean)

The Tennessee Department of Education and the state’s Higher Education Commission are presenting their budgets to Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday. The departments are some of the last to present their budgets to the governor, who’s asked each agency to prepare budget proposals with a 7 percent reduction. He’s said those cuts aren’t guaranteed. Haslam has perpetually not funded higher education at recommended levels and nixed a 2 percent pay raise for teachers last year, citing budget concerns. This year he has not specifically said whether pay raises are off the board: in late October Haslam said teacher pay is going to be important “within budget constraints” but the state has to “deal with the reality that we have.” The Department of Education is scheduled to present its budget proposal at 1:30 p.m. Friday, with the Higher Education Commission presentation following directly thereafter. The presentations are at open to the public. They’re also streamed live online.

Groundbreaking for TCAT/Nissan Training Center set Monday (Daily News Journal)

SMYRNA – Gov. Bill Haslam Monday will be among dignitaries who will participate in groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Tennessee College of Applied Technology/Nissan Training Center, according to a release from the state. Also planning to attend the 2 p.m. event at the construction site on Ken Pilkerton Drive, across from the Nissan plant, are José Muñoz, executive vice president of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and chairman of Nissan North America, and John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennesee Board of Regents. The new center will operate as an extension of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology campus at Murfreesboro, officials said. TCAT-Murfreesboro, a Board of Regents institution, and Nissan will occupy the center jointly.

Groundbreaking set Monday for Smyrna tech college (Murfreesboro Post)

Construction is set to start this month on a $35 million Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Smyrna, a partnership for training Nissan workers and Tennessee students, officials confirmed. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled Monday at 2 p.m. at the facility’s site across from the Nissan manufacturing plant on Nissan Parkway, Director Lynn Kreider said. Planned for 150,000 square feet, the college will train Nissan technicians and complement the state’s College of Applied Technology in Murfreesboro, providing courses for numerous other industry employees in the area and the general public. The total investment is reported to be $50 million, including land and equipment. Construction is expected to take about 18 months, with Denark Construction of Knoxville slated to complete work in fall of 2016, according to Kreider.

Classroom results to factor into teacher prep program grades (Tennessean)

Tennessee is at the forefront of a national push by President Barack Obama’s administration to grade teacher preparation programs in part by the performance of their graduates and the students they go on to teach. A policy adopted by the Tennessee State Board of Education in October will make programs that develop and train teachers in Tennessee the subject of new annual reports that measure the outcomes of their graduates. Those failing to produce teachers who are meeting performance expectations could eventually lose accreditation. That means the state’s controversial teacher evaluation system that leans on student test scores and in-class observations won’t just reflect on an individual teacher — it could have implications on the school or program that trained them. In addition the new policy will look at the hiring rates of graduates who exit programs, their retention at local districts and schools as well as employer satisfaction, among other metrics.

Schools for teachers face new grading system (Modesto Bee)

In the fast-shifting education landscape, remaking teacher training programs lies just over the horizon. The changes proposed continue what, for some, is a queasy slide – from a tradition based on measuring how hard everyone tries toward the business metric of evaluating results. The U.S. Department of Education has proposed a complete rethink of how training programs are evaluated, looking at quality instead of quantity of the graduates. The proposal is up for public comment through January and will not be finalized until September. States will have another year to think over how to implement them.  April 2018 is the target date for a public reporting of how well each teacher training program does in preparing graduates to teach. The evaluation will be based in part on how many teachers have teaching jobs, what principals think of them in their early years and improvement seen in their students.  … California has taken a multiple measures approach. Modesto City Schools, for example, now includes some measure of student growth in teacher evaluations. That measure can be student work or district tests, but not the annual state scores, said Associate Superintendent Ginger Johnson. … Tennessee switched early to the results-oriented evaluation process and is seeing results, Gov. Bill Haslam said in the same press call.

State representative concerned about takeover of middle schools (WMSV)

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) – A state representative said he hand-delivered a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam expressing concern about the potential state takeover of two Madison schools. Newly elected Rep. Bill Beck, a Nashville Democrat, told the governor he wants the state to take more time to decide on a potential takeover of Madison and Neely’s Bend Middle Schools. The state could take over those schools under its Achievement School District process. Beck said the state will announce a decision on those schools by Dec. 12. Beck added he has questions about the academic standards of the charter school operators that might take over. He said both middle schools are improving.

Cause still unclear in Knox school bus crash (Knoxville News Sentinel)

An investigative team from the National Transportation Safety Board has joined local and state officials in the investigation of Tuesday’s crash between two Knox County school buses that killed two elementary students and a teacher’s aide and injured more than two dozen others. “They (the NTSB) sent a team yesterday from Texas and now have boots on the ground,” Knoxville Police Department spokesman Darrell DeBusk said Wednesday. Inspectors from the Tennessee Highway Patrol examined the two buses Wednesday. Federal investigators will inspect the buses today, DeBusk said. THP Lt. Don Boshears said the inspectors’ findings will be forwarded to the Police Department, which is designated as the lead investigative agency on the crash.

Bus crash victim’s mother surrounded by support at vigil (Knoxville News Sentinel)

When police brought Ukennia Arinze’s son to her without his twin sister from the scene of the school bus crash, they didn’t have to tell her the rest. “Once you can’t find your other child, you kind of just know,” she said. “I felt like I had a peaceful calming come over me. … It was just a calming that came over me once I discovered that that was Zykia still on the bus. “I’m gonna miss her every day, every moment. Every time I close my eyes I see my beautiful daughter smiling.” Arinze was exhausted but still standing with the support of family and strangers alike at a candlelight vigil Wednesday night to honor her daughter, Zykia Burns, and the other victims killed the day before in the bus crash.

UT’s Cheek calls for ‘campus civility’ (Knoxville News Sentinel)

A group of 50 to 60 University of Tennessee students followed Tuesday’s campus protest march with a quieter indictment of the recent events in Ferguson, Mo. Led by UT’s newly chartered National Association of Black Journalists, the students gathered in the lobby of Hodges Library, where they placed a large sheet of paper bearing the silhouette of a body and the hashtag #Mylifemattersbecause. From 12:30-4 p.m. Wednesday — four and a half hours, to represent the amount of time Michael Brown’s body lay in the street in Ferguson — students were invited to come by and sign the paper. “This isn’t meant to be a controversial event, only an event to increase awareness and let students voice their opinions,” said Lauriel Cleveland, vice president of the campus chapter of NABJ, a junior majoring in journalism and electronic media.




Editorial: Community college graduation rates do not bode well for TN Promise (CA)

Pitifully low graduation rates at the state’s community colleges, unless drastically improved, do not hold a lot of promise for the success of Tennessee Promise, Gov. Bill Haslam’s ambitious initiative that will provide two years of free community college for high school graduates starting next fall with the high school class of 2015. Based on 2010 enrollees, graduation rates for community colleges in Tennessee ranged from 6 percent at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis, the lowest, to a high of 22 percent at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville. In the bigger picture, only 13.3 percent of the 2010 enrollees at the state’s 13 two-year community colleges graduated.