February 15 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: State budget action needs less ideology (Daily News Journal)
Even with all the ideological shenanigans that have become the fare of political theater for the annual sessions of the General Assembly, the primary responsibilities for legislators are to approve and fund a budget for the state. States have to enact balanced budgets, and during and in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Tennessee and other states have found the balancing of their budgets rather arduous tasks. During the 2014 legislative session, Gov. Bill Haslam offered a number of proposals such as teacher raises and performance funding for institutions of higher education, but shortfalls in revenue collections eventually killed those proposed allocations.

Editorial: Don’t politicize school standards (Leaf Chronicle)
Gov. Bill Haslam has a distinguished record of policies that are improving educational outcomes for Tennessee students. His aim, of course, with post-secondary programs like Drive to 55 and the Tennessee Promise is to create a better educated workforce that in turn will attract business and industry and jobs for Tennesseans. Better jobs equal opportunity and more successful lives for more Tennesseans. The higher-education programs are based on the bedrock of continued improvements in the state’s K-12 achievement rates, which are on the upswing because of higher standards and reforms put in place during the governor’s first term.

Maury Co. schools add culinary course (Columbia Daily Herald)
Eight Maury County high school students awaited orders from the head chef on what the day’s dish would be, hoping their offering will be a cut above the rest. After a few moments, the chef announces the selection: made-from-scratch potato soup. Three groups were tasked with making a variation of the comfort food. “Hey, chef” echoes throughout the kitchen as the students ask food preparation questions at the Workforce Development and Conference Center at Northfield in Spring Hill. The high schoolers slice, simmer, whisk, measure and boil their way toward a finished product. Pots and pans clang in the background as each person carefully scans a recipe.

Colleges speak out on Common Core review (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Many of Tennessee’s high school students don’t graduate with the skills they need to succeed in college, according to leaders of the state’s 13 community colleges. The educators gathered Wednesday for a press conference at the State Capitol to urge Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to lay the groundwork for their students’ success as she works with Gov. Bill Haslam and other education officials during the state’s review of Common Core standards. “Our schools are attracting far too many students who come to us unprepared for college work,” said Southwest Tennessee Community College President Nathan Essex. “We are not aligning the standards that students are meeting in high school with what they need to be college ready.”

Williamson school board responds to state bills (Tennessean/Balakitmbalakit)
The Williamson County school board reviewed state education bills at a meeting Saturday and plans to draft resolutions on three of those bills. Volunteer state standards for K-12 education — SB5/HB3 This bill would essentially replace the current Common Core standards and curriculum with standards and curriculum developed by Tennessee educators. The school board has been vocal about its opposition to Common Core. Last October, the board passed a resolution in support of locally derived educational standards.

Local educators weigh in on Common Core standards, debate (Johnson City Press)
Although some government officials have already declared Common Core “dead” in Tennessee, over the past week, education officials and organizations from across the state gathered in an effort to breathe life back into it. Two area educators — Ron Dykes, director of schools for the Washington County School District, and Janice Gilliam, president of Northeast State Community College — were among those who spoke out in favor of the standards of learning in Nashville this week. Since 2010, Tennessee has invested millions of dollars in the implementation of the standards, which dictate what a student should know and when they should know it for the subjects of math and English language arts.

Long wait for a home: Tenn Valley lags in pace of adoptions (TFP/Bradbury)
Two years is a long time for a child. Lost teeth, first days of school, learning to ride a bike — countless milestones are reached when a girl grows from 5 years old to 7, or a boy from 3 to 5. That’s partly why federal laws urge states to move children in their custody quickly from foster care to a permanent home. A quick end to the limbo of state custody is critical for a child’s well-being, federal agencies say. But the Tennessee Valley has one of the worst records for timely adoptions in the state. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, only 24 percent of the region’s adoptions were finalized within two years of the date the child entered state custody, according to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.

4 Chattanooga judges’ seats about to become empty (Times Free-Press/Wiseman)
On Monday, after months of consideration, Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern sent a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam and made her retirement official. Stern’s announcement that she’s leaving her state court position comes on the heels of three others in the local federal court system. That means that by summer’s end, Chattanooga could see four new judges raised up by appointment. Local attorney Tim Mickel said that in some ways, the federal retirements in particular could change the game. “That’s going to have quite an impact on we litigators,” he said. Each position will be filled by a different process.

McCormick: ‘Tread carefully’ on city police, fire unions (Times Free-Press)
State lawmakers should “tread carefully” on a bill that would ban municipal governments’ agreements with police, firefighters and other public employees, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, says. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, extends the existing ban on union contracts to any agreement with local government, including memorandums of understanding. Such MOUs are voluntary and nonbinding, and thus “unenforceable,” according to a 2000 analysis by the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service. But McCormick said such agreements “have given the firefighters and police officers a seat at the table.”

Hamilton Co. mayor says Haslam’s teacher raise would strain budget (TFP/Omarzu)
During his State of the State address last week, Gov. Bill Haslam got a standing ovation from lawmakers when he proposed setting aside $97.6 million to boost Tennessee K-12 teachers’ pay by 4 percent. A more muted response came from Hamilton County school officials over that proposal and Haslam’s plan to dedicate an additional $44 million toward the Basic Education Program (BEP), the state funding formula for schools. “We’re probably not going to get that much,” said Christie Jordan, director of accounting and budgeting for the Hamilton County Department of Education. That’s because Hamilton County is considered to be the second- or third-wealthiest county in Tennessee. So the state education department factors in a “wealth index” and throttles down its financial contribution accordingly.

Results mixed for GOP governors seeking Medicaid expansion (AP/Schelzig)
Years of Republican attacks on President Barack Obama’s health care law may have paid dividends at the ballot box, but they also made it much harder for GOP governors to make the case that expanding Medicaid in their states is a good idea. In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam corralled the broad support of business groups and the state’s powerful health care industry for his plan to cover 280,000 low-income residents. But Haslam ended up losing out to a steady drumbeat of anti-Obama rhetoric and threats of primary challenges to Republican lawmakers who considered going along. “We manage more hospital beds out of Nashville than anywhere in the country,” Haslam marveled after the measure’s defeat in the Legislature. “Huge economic forces, and we didn’t move the needle.”

Election Commission to consider slate of precinct consolidations (CA/Veazey)
The jigsaw puzzle that is Shelby County’s map of voting precincts could become simpler as early as this week. The Shelby County Election Commission will vote Wednesday on a slate of precinct consolidations that could eventually turn the current 220 precincts into about 170. “It’s important so elections are done efficiently and the voting experience is similar for the voters,” said Richard Holden, the county’s election administrator. “Really, even taking a step back from that, the bottom line is to accommodate population shifts.” The process isn’t easy. To start, the Election Commission is bound by a state law that won’t let precinct boundaries cross County Commission or state Senate district lines. State law also dictates that precincts can’t have more than 6,000 registered voters.

State Democratic chair seeks ideas to rebuild party (Daily News Journal)
Newly elected Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini received ideas as she made her pitch for reviving the party with Rutherford County Democrats Saturday afternoon. Mancini, a former state Senate candidate and former director of the Tennessee Citizen Action advocacy group, spoke in front of more than two dozen people at the Rutherford County Courthouse as part of a 12-city listening tour across the state. The Nashville resident was elected to lead the state party in January. “Everywhere I’m go I’m finding suggestions and things we’re going to get a lot better at,” Mancini said after the meeting. “The state party can’t do it alone.”

OPINION

Editorial: Ramsey, Harwell let down the uninsured (Jackson Sun)
As we continue to assess the defeat of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan, we are increasingly disappointed by the lack of leadership shown by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, speaker of the Senate, and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell. The actions — or inactions — of Ramsey and Harwell amount to an outright betrayal of Haslam, the leader of their party and the leader of our state, who was elected by an overwhelming majority. Ramsey and Harwell did an incredible disservice to Haslam and to our state by not doing their best to get Haslam’s plan to a floor vote. The issue and the uninsured in our state deserved that. As it was, Harwell gave up on the plan before it could even be considered by the House. And Ramsey stacked the Senate committee that summarily killed the plan before any legitimate debate.