February 12 TN News Digest

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

Haslam bills cover taxes, teachers, tuition (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration filed most of the rest of his legislative agenda for this year, including bills to cut health insurance benefits for state workers, to close some tax loopholes, and to give teachers state-paid liability insurance and adults free tuition at community colleges. Haslam referred to most of the initiatives in his State of the State speech to the General Assembly on Monday. The bills would become law if approved by the General Assembly. The “Community College Reconnect Grant” pilot program would use $1.5 million in lottery funds next year to allow adults with some college credit and incomes of under $36,000 to attend a community college tuition-free, with other scholarships.

Experts answer your questions on Tennessee Promise, FAFSA (Tenn/Tamburin)
On Tuesday, The Tennessean gave readers the chance to ask two experts questions about the Tennessee Promise program and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Higher education reporter Adam Tamburin moderated a Twitter chat with Mike Krause, executive director of Tennessee Promise, and Josh Moran, director of financial aid at Nashville State Community College. A transcript of the chat is included below. Some answers have been edited or modified for clarity.

Manufacturing firm to expand, add 90 jobs (Daily News Journal)
Jagemann Precision Plastics will expand its Murfreesboro facility and bring another 90 high-paying advanced manufacturing jobs to Rutherford County, the company announced Wednesday morning. “We are pleased to have the support of the local and state officials as we make plans to grow and expand in the region. We anticipate this to be a longstanding relationship,” Jagemann President Ralph Hardt said. The announcement comes on the heels of the expansion of JPP’s parent company, Jagemann Stamping Co., which recently completed a 50,000-square-foot expansion at the company’s headquarters and plant in Manitowoc, Wisc., adding 130 jobs and new product offerings such as brass casings and increased metal stamping capabilities.

McQueen Outlines Education Department Priorities (TN Report)
Tennessee’s new commissioner of education this week delivered her first formal presentation to a state legislative committee, laying out a series of goals she said will help the department build on “major education strides” of the past several years. Prior to taking over for Kevin Huffman, who stepped down as commissioner last month, Candice McQueen served as a Lipscomb University vice president who specialized in “teaching teachers.” She told members of the House Education Administration and Planning Committee on Tuesday that one of her prime concerns as Tennessee’s top public-schools official will be to ensure that teachers are given what they need to succeed.

State Library Makes Journal on Desegregation Available (Associated Press)
For Black History Month, the Tennessee State Library and Archives is making available online a new collection that traces the history of school desegregation. Southern School News was the official publication of the Southern Education Reporting Service. According to the journal, that service was “an objective, fact-finding agency established by southern newspaper editors and educators with the aim of providing accurate, unbiased information” about desegregation after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. Members of the board included the presidents and chancellors of Fisk and Vanderbilt Universities and George Peabody College.

Legislators leaving Common Core alone — for now (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Action on a bill setting up a second review process of Tennessee Common Core math and English standards was delayed Wednesday to allow lawmakers to explore whether it can be merged with ongoing efforts by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to resolve the controversy. Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens, chairman of the House Education Instruction and Programs Committee, agreed to postpone a planned subcommittee vote for one week at the request of Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg. Spivey told the panel he had an “epiphany” Wednesday that “may well eliminate the need for a bill of this nature.” “Well, it’s just something you got to get right,” Spivey later told reporters.

Lawmakers Tread Cautiously Around Common Core Repeal (WPLN-Radio)
Lawmakers described it as an “epiphany.” Just a few hours before members of a House panel were to open debate Wednesday on Common Core for the year, they abruptly changed course. On the agenda was a bill, HB 3, that could give the legislature more say over the controversial education standards. Its sponsor, Rep. John Forgety (R-Athens), gave little explanation why he’d decided not to push it forward. “I’m of the opinion that we need to end Common Core in a constructive – not a destructive – manner,” he said. Forgety was a little more forthcoming after the committee meeting.

College presidents unite behind school standards (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
Tennessee’s community college presidents added their voices Wednesday to a growing chorus of support for the state’s K-12 academic standards and of opposition to efforts to roll those standards back. All 13 community college presidents visited the State Capitol and signed a letter urging state officials to maintain or strengthen the existing standards, which are hotly controversial in the Legislature due to opposition by conservatives to the inclusion of Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts.

Community Colleges Make Their Case For Common Core (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Community college presidents have signed a letter signaling their support for Common Core. And just like a similar letter from school superintendents earlier this week, this letter never uses the words “Common Core,” which have become politically toxic. Nearly 70 percent of the students who enter a two-year school in Tennessee have to get some remedial help. Board of Regents chancellor John Morgan says it doesn’t have to be that way. “As far as students coming out of high schools, we really can get to a place where the vast majority of those students are ready to succeed from day one,” Morgan said at a press conference in the state capitol on Wednesday.

Bill would give undocumented immigrants in-state tuition (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Many undocumented immigrants going to college this year will continue to pay substantially more than their peers to stay in Tennessee, unless legislation introduced this week becomes law. Tennessee lawmakers filed a bill this week that would offer some undocumented immigrants in-state tuition at public colleges. The move was greeted with support from immigration advocates, business leaders and educators. But the withdrawal of a similar bill in 2014 casts some doubts over this year’s prospects. Rep. Mark White, a Republican from Memphis who is sponsoring the legislation in the House of Representatives, said his support was rooted in his history as a teacher and a self-employed businessman.

Tennessee school voucher bill advancing in Senate (Associated Press)
A proposal to create a school voucher program in Tennessee is advancing in the Senate. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown passed the Senate Education Committee 5-1 Wednesday evening. The legislation that would give parents the option to move a child from a failing public school to a private school is similar to a measure Republican Gov. Bill Haslam proposed last year that failed. Under Kelsey’s proposal, eligibility would be opened to low-income students in districts that have a school in the bottom 5 percent if slots are left.

Tennessee voucher bill passes first hurdle (Tennessean/Balakit, Gonzalez)
A bill that would create a school voucher program in the state passed its first hurdle Wednesday and moves to the Senate Finance Committee. It will move forward, however, without a provision allowing school districts to opt into the program, a major revision from last year’s program proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam, which ultimately failed. The Senate Education Committee voted 5-1 with three abstaining votes. The Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, looks to provide low-income students a voucher program to pay for private school tuition with a state-funded scholarship.

Tennessee lawmaker seeks ban on paddling in schools (Tennessean/Barchenger)
State legislators introduced a bill Wednesday that would remove paddling as an option for doling out discipline in Tennessee schools. Though many districts do not allow corporal punishment, some schools let teachers provide physical punishment — in the form of being spanked with a paddle — when students misbehave. A state representative from Nashville believes that teacher discretion and inconsistency in protocol across the state about what actions warrant corporal punishment are at issue. “The lack of consistency in the state in how physical punishment is administered seems to me to not make a lot of sense,” Democratic Rep. Jason Powell said in an interview with The Tennessean.

TN lawmakers reignite for-profit charter school push (Tennessean/Boucher)
Opening the door to another battleground on the education policy front, state lawmakers are again pushing for a change in law to allow for-profit companies to manage charter schools in Tennessee. Senate Education Committee chairwoman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, filed legislation Wednesday she’s backed for several years. The House sponsor, Franklin Republican and GOP Caucus Committee chairman Glen Casada, also supported the proposal last year. “For students to flourish, they need access to the best teachers, administrators and schools available. This proposal simply places another option on the table and gives Tennessee’s students, families and communities more access to great educational choices,” Casada said in a statement submitted by a spokesman.

Corker wants more details on military force request (Tenn/Troyan, Guadiano)
The first step in reviewing President Barack Obama’s request to use military force against the Islamic State is to hear his strategy for fighting militants in Syria, Sen. Bob Corker said Wednesday. Corker, R-Tenn., will lead congressional hearings on Obama’s request in coming weeks. Obama sent Congress a proposed three-year authorization Wednesday that would allow the military to take on the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, but would prohibit “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” The administration has used congressional authorizations from 2001 and 2002 to launch attacks against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria. There have been bipartisan calls for a new authorization and a debate over how it should be limited, such as an expiration date or geographic restrictions.

Corker Thinks Senate Could Act Soon On Highways And Small Banks (WPLN)
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker’s name comes up a lot, sometimes in surprising contexts. For instance, during the recent Insure Tennessee debate, when some of the senator’s own words were used to attack Gov. Bill Haslam’s health plan. Long before Insure Tennessee, Corker had accused states of using “gimmicks” to fund Medicaid. That blunt talk came back to bite him, as critics pointed out that Insure Tennessee rested on one of those very techniques. A tough spot, politically. But Corker shrugs it off. “I don’t know. I think everybody tries to make the best arguments they can to further their points of view.

Bob Corker Shifts His Focus To ISIS And Other Crises (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker joked when he took over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month that he was more used to swinging a hammer than a gavel. The former contractor and one-time mayor of Chattanooga freely admits he knew little about foreign affairs before being elected senator in 2006. Now he’s one of the most important voices in Washington on foreign policy. Corker says there’s plenty of overlap between the worlds of business and foreign affairs.

East Tennessee lawmakers supportive but cautious on war powers (N-S/Collins)
President Barack Obama made the right call in asking Congress for the authority to use military force against the Islamic State, East Tennesseans in Congress said Wednesday, but they stopped short of saying they would back his request. “The brutality of ISIS offends every civilization,” said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Maryville. “The president is correct to ask for the approval of Congress before using military force in such an extensive way. I am carefully reviewing the president’s request.” U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the panel would quickly hold hearings on the president’s request to give Congress and the American people “greater clarity” on the U.S. strategy.

More than 200K Tenns have gotten coverage in Obamacare marketplaces (NBJ)
We’re just four days away from the end of the second ever open enrollment period in the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplaces. Thus far, 200,905 Tennesseans have signed up, according to a news release from the Department of Health and Human Services. That figure — which includes both those automatically re-enrolled and new purchasers — already surpasses last year’s total of around 150,000 enrollees. About 80 percent of this year Tennessee enrollees (through Jan. 30) have been deemed eligible for tax credits, the release says.

Unlocking more federal funds (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner)
The lack of funding to restart work on the new Chickamauga lock in Chattanooga demonstrates a failure to set proper priorities by the Obama administration, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Wednesday. Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who became chairman last month of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Corps’ budget, scolded Corps leaders during a budget hearing Wednesday for not using available funds to restart work on the new lock and other waterway projects across the country.

Safety board raises seismic concerns at Y-12 facilities (News-Sentinel/Munger)
The government’s revised strategy to make the multibillion-dollar Uranium Processing Facility more affordable relies, in part, on extending the life of some existing facilities at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. A federal safety board, however, has raised questions about the long-term structural integrity of a couple of key facilities — Beta-2E and Building 9215 — and how they would fare in the event of a major earthquake. In a Feb. 4 correspondence, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board recommended that the National Nuclear Security Administration conduct an updated evaluation of the risks and determine how those risks can be addressed before moving ahead with the life-extension plans for the two Y-12 facilities.

ACT: 14% of greater Chattanooga area seniors ‘college ready (TFP/Omarzu)
Signal Mountain Middle/High School has more college-ready students than any other Hamilton County public high school, according to students’ scores in English, math, reading and science on the ACT, the nation’s most popular college entrance exam. Signal Mountain’s seniors are about three times more likely to do well in first-year college courses than the average Hamilton County or Tennessee student. That’s according to a measure called the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, which predicts student success based on ACT scores — students who earn high-enough scores have a 50 percent chance of getting a B or higher and a 75 percent chance of at least a C in corresponding first-year college courses.

Kansas: Education Is Newest Target of Kansas Budget Cuts (New York Times)
In November, shortly after Gov. Sam Brownback won re-election, experts forecast that the state would bring in $1 billion less than expected over the next two years. He responded by cutting state agency budgets and proposing the transfer of funds among various state accounts. In December came news of a revenue slump, falling to $15.1 million below estimates. Mr. Brownback proposed increasing taxes on liquor and cigarettes, slowed reductions in the income tax and changed the way money was distributed to public schools. But the governor’s budget headaches have continued: January receipts fell $47.2 million short of predictions, and Mr. Brownback has responded by cutting funding for public schools and higher education by a combined $44.5 million.

OPINION

Editorial: Proposed budget shows need to retain Hall Tax (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget blueprint should be enough to quash a proposal to phase out the Hall Tax on interest and dividends. The $33.3 billion spending plan released on Monday contains $200 million in spending cuts — reductions that hit virtually every area of state government outside of education. No one enjoys paying taxes, but Tennessee does not generate enough revenue to fully fund services now; eliminating the Hall Tax would only exacerbate the problem. In addition to depriving the state of up to about $300 million in revenue each year, eliminating the tax would either devastate some cities’ budgets or, if local governments are held harmless, drain the state’s general fund even further.