March 3 TN News Digest

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

Panel Formed to Review Student Testing, Assessment in Tennessee (AP/Johnson)
A new task force will review student testing and assessment amid concerns that students are being overtested, the state Education Department announced Monday. The group is charged with identifying best practices in testing and how those assessments align with required state tests. “We have heard some concerns that there is ‘too much testing’ taking place,” said Education Commissioner Candace McQueen. “So as education leaders and stakeholders, it’s important that we clearly understand current testing policies and practices at both the state and local levels.”

TN education department to study district testing (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen will form a special task force focusing on the testing and assessment of students at the district level, the department announced Monday. The Tennessee Task Force on Student Testing and Assessment brings together legislators, school officials and school board members in the hopes of addressing concerns that there is too much testing taking place in schools. McQueen called the review an opportunity to look at testing during a time when the state will shift to a new type next year.

Task force to examine ‘too much’ student testing by local districts (TFP/Sher)
State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced on Monday the creation of a state task force on student testing and assessment to study and identify “best practices” in school-level tests and how those assessments align with required state tests. “We have heard some concerns that there is ‘too much testing’ taking place,” McQueen said in a news release. “So as education leaders and stakeholders, it’s important that we clearly understand current testing policies and practices at both the state and local levels.” A report will be issued this summer. McQueen said “proper assessment tools are vital in making sure we are supporting our schools, teachers, parents and students with clear information about what students are learning and mastering.”

State Ed Commissioner sets up task force on student testing (N-S/Locker)
State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has created a 23-member Task Force on Student Testing and Assessment to study “best practices” in school testing and how those assessments align with required state tests. “We have heard some concerns that there is ‘too much testing’ taking place. So as education leaders and stakeholders, it’s important that we clearly understand current testing policies and practices at both the state and local levels,” McQueen said Monday. “Proper assessment tools are vital in making sure we are supporting our schools, teachers, parents, and students with clear information about what students are learning and mastering. We want to highlight those districts that are finding the right approach and balance on this important topic, and to identify any areas for discussion and improvement.”

New Taskforce To Examine Role Of Student Testing (WTVF-TV Nashville)
Concerns over too much testing in schools is prompting the formation of a new task force. Their recommendations could change not only how many tests students take, but its impact on teachers. Monday, Education Commissioner Dr. Candice McQueen visited Stewarts Creek High School. With each school visit, it’s like an olive branch is extended. “It can’t be top down to be quite honest. I know when it comes from culture, leadership is from the top,” Principal Dr. Clark Harrell said. “When it comes to getting the job done we’ve got to get resources and support to the teacher level.” Only one month into her new position and Dr. McQueen is on a listening tour.

Are Tennessee Students Over-Tested? Task Force Named To Find Out (WPLN)
The amount of testing in Tennessee’s public schools is under scrutiny, with the state’s new education commissioner naming a task force Monday to complete a review by this summer. Parents frequently tell commission Candice McQueen that there is “too much testing,” according to an education department press release. “In places that I’ve been across the state, I’m hearing that we have a lot of assessment, we have lots of data, but I’m not sure we’re using it for the purpose it’s potentially intended, or we don’t know what it’s being used for,” McQueen tells WPLN during a tour of Stewarts Creek High in Smyrna.

Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam asks parents to read more to children (WCYB)
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam visited a Kingsport elementary school on Monday night to encourage parents to read to their children. Haslam said 50 percent of students state-wide are not at a proficient reading level by third grade. “Those children who get behind are the ones who end up dropping out, or finishing high school and not going on to college, or going to college but needing remedial work,” said Haslam. She said there’s a simple solution: read to your child 20 minutes every day. Haslam passed that message along to a group of parents and students at Johnson Elementary School.

TEMA drops state of emergency to Level III (Tennessean/Buie)
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency’s State Emergency Operations Center lowered the state of emergency to Level III Monday afternoon. “We are seeing a number of improvements in conditions from last week’s ice storm and severe winter weather as fewer customers are without power and fewer occupants are seeking shelter resources,” TEMA said in a news release sent out Monday. “Many counties impacted last week are also beginning to consider priorities for recovery and starting preliminary damage assessments, primarily in West Tennessee.”

Two weeks later, Tennessee remains under a State of Emergency (WVLT-TV Knox)
Tennessee remains under a State of Emergency and has been since February 16. The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) stepped down to a Level III – State of Emergency Monday afternoon. The Tennessee Emergency Management Plant remains activated and Tennessee remains in a State of Emergency. There are a number of improvements in conditions from last week’s ice storm and severe winter weather as fewer customers are without power and fewer occupants are seeking shelter resources. Many counties impacted last week are also beginning to consider priorities for recovery and starting preliminary damage assessments, primarily in West Tennessee.

Prolonged February Cold Snap: Bad For Livestock, Good for Peaches (WPLN)
Temperatures are not expected to drop below freezing again until late Wednesday, and that’s a good thing for Middle Tennessee farmers. DeWayne Perry, who just retired after 40 years with the Williamson County agriculture extension, says the last two weeks of February were a stressful time, as farmers tried to keep a steady water supply flowing for their livestock. But while some struggled, an extended February cold snap wasn’t all bad news for the agriculture industry. Perry says peach orchards can actually benefit from freezing weather.

State to allow school systems to apply to have up to 3 snow days waived (WATE)
The state of Tennessee is allowing school systems to apply to have up to three educational days waived after many systems went over their amount of allotted snow days due to last month’s winter weather. Education Commissioner Dr. Candice McQueen says many school systems have inquired about relief from the statutory requirement of 180 days of student instruction. Because Gov. Bill Haslam declared a Level II State of Emergency due to the extreme weather conditions throughout the state, the state is accepting requests to waive a maximum of three instructional days.

Korean War prisoner remains identified as East TN man (Tennessean/Barnes)
After nearly 65 years, researchers have finally identified the remains of a U.S. war prisoner killed during the Korean War as an East Tennessee resident. Private First Class Lotchie John Ray Jones of Jasper went missing around Nov. 2, 1950, in the vicinity of Unsan, North Korea. It is believed the 17-year-old died while in enemy captivity at the Pyoktong Prisoner of War Camp 5 on Feb. 28, 1951. Three years later, Chinese forces turned over the remains and misidentified them as another soldier’s. Efforts to correctly identify the former prisoner of war remained unsuccessful until they were exhumed in 2014.

3500 Tennesseans receive incorrect photo ID due to printing error (WVLT-TV Knox)
Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security today announced that it had re-issued new permanent driver licenses or photo ID cards to citizens who recently received a card with incorrect content due to a printing error. The driver licenses or ID cards were incorrectly issued with the phrase “Not for Federal Identification” to 3,500 Tennesseans. The cards were issued to citizens who applied or renewed their driver license or ID card at state driver services centers on February 17 through February 19. The department is in the process of sending a new permanent card, without the misprint, to those affected.

New Tennessee Licenses And Photo ID’s Issued Due To Printing Error (WTVF-TV)
New permanent driver licenses and photo ID cards were re-issued to citizens who received a card with incorrect content. Officials with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security said the incorrect information on the cards happened due to a printing error. The cards contained the incorrect phrase “Not for Federal Identification” and were issued to 3,500 Tennesseans. The incorrect cards were issued to anyone who applied or renewed their card at state driver services centers February 17-19. Department officials said they were in the process of sending out all of the new, correct cards to everyone who was affected.

New trail for state natural area (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Visitors to the scenic Watauga River Bluffs State Natural Area in Carter County now have quick and easy access to scenic Watauga River thanks to a new trail and parking facilities. Watauga River Bluffs is a 50-acre state natural area designated by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to protect a rare flower called the Carolina pink. The flower is found on the high bluffs above the river, just next to an old shale mine formerly owned by General Shale. The Nature Conservancy purchased the property from General Shale in 1993 to protect the Carolina pink. In 1988 the property was transferred to the state and designated a natural area.

Woodland Hills faces budget, staff issues (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Budget issues could spell more trouble for Woodland Hills Youth Development Center. The facility has been asking for extra funding for years. Instead, it could be losing money and staff. Monday was set to be the last day on the job for Woodland Hills security manager Mike Gordon. After only a few months on the job, he sent in a letter of resignation saying he missed doing investigative work. As the facility scrambles to find a replacement, they have asked Gordon to stay. On Capitol Hill, legislators are looking at cuts at the facility. This year’s budget proposal outlines a more than $9.8 million cut to the Department of Children’s Services and staff reductions.

State taking over Roane reappraisal (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)
State employees will be in town this week to take over what one official called Roane County’s “fundamentally flawed” reappraisal process, and the county will get the bill for their work. How much the state’s takeover of reappraisal will cost remains to be seen, said Jason Mumpower, chief of staff for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. “It’s been many years” since the state has had to step in and take over a county’s reappraisal, Mumpower said. The Tennessee Board of Equalization voted 5-0 last week to have the state’s Division of Property Assessments step in and do the Roane County Property Assessor’s task.

Woman charged with second count of TennCare fraud (Jackson Sun)
A woman was charged a second time with TennCare fraud in Dyer County this morning, according to Tennessee public information officer Lola Potter. Crystal Lawson, 35, of Newbern was arrested in Dyersburg this morning. An Obion County Grand Jury charged her with two counts of fraudulently using TennCare to obtain controlled substances by doctor shopping. Lawson was first charged in December in Dyer County with doctor shopping involving the painkiller Oxycodone. The Dyer County charges are still in the court system.

Office That Defends Death Row Inmates Comes Under Fire (AP)
A state agency that defends death row inmates is being criticized for using taxpayer dollars to pay for a legal battle that seeks information on the drugs and people involved in executions while also challenging a law that says electrocution can be used as an alternative to lethal injection. Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, said the Office of Post-Conviction Defender stepped outside its legal authority when it filed a civil lawsuit seeking the identities of executioners and the drugs used in an execution, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

School vouchers, loosening gun laws among 5 bills to watch (Tennessean/Boucher)
Education remains a key political battleground as the Tennessee General Assembly heads into March. School voucher opponents are headed to the statehouse Tuesday, and Wednesday lawmakers could hear details of the “epiphany” that temporarily delayed one of the key bills taking aim at the controversial Common Core education standards. Meanwhile, a lawmaker wants anyone with a valid gun permit and off-duty law enforcement officers to have the same rights when it comes to where they can take their weapons. It’s common for bills to be delayed temporarily early in the legislative session.

Tennessee Senate repeals Intractable Pain Act; next stop, the House (Times-News)
The Intractable Pain Act came one step closer to being fully repealed this week. The Tennessee State Senate approved unanimously the repeal of the 2001 law, also called the “Pain Patient’s Bill of Rights,” on Thursday. The bill to repeal the law now moves on to the Tennessee House of Representatives. “This is very important,” said Barry Staubus, Sullivan County District Attorney General. “Last year, the repeal passed through the House, but not the Senate. … I’m very optimistic for the passage of this bill.” Staubus has been a vocal critic of the law, which he believes has given illegitimate pain management clinics, also called pill mills, a legal shield to avoid prosecution.

Womick bill would give sheriff Correctional Work Center (Daily News Journal)
The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office will take over the Correctional Work Center if the Tennessee General Assembly passes legislation sponsored by state Rep. Rick Womick and Sen. Bill Ketron. “It will save the county as much as $500,000 per year,” said Womick, a Republican from Rutherford’s Rockvale community southwest of Murfreesboro. The Correctional Work Center houses non-violent misdemeanor offenders, and County Mayor Ernest Burgess serves as the chairman of a five-member board that oversees the operation. Womick contends the existing structure creates a redundancy of services that’s costing the county more money to provide pay and benefits for jailers, bedding, food, building maintenance and utilities.

Tennessee’s School Takeover Agency Pleads For More Time (WPLN-Radio)
State takeover of a school is going to be controversial, but some legislators believe Tennessee’s Achievement School District isn’t worth the headaches. The ASD — which controls 23 chronically low-performers in Nashville and Memphis — is fending off Democrats eager to see its demise. “People are coming after us left and right on this thing, and it’s two years old,” ASD superintendent Chris Barbic told senators on the Education Committee Barbic wants permission to expand who can attend one of his schools, but he says he spent quite a bit of time at the state capitol just making a case for the ASD’s existence.

Tennessee Public Television Stations Airing Legislative Show (Associated Press)
Tennessee public television stations are airing a new show about the happenings in the state Legislature. The first of four 30-minute episodes of the “Tennessee Capitol Report” began airing Sunday morning, March 1, on public TV stations in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Lexington-Jackson and Cookeville. The next episodes are scheduled to air on March 29, April 26 and May 31. The program is hosted by Chip Hoback and produced by Tim Weeks. The first episode features interviews with Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Black Caucus renews call for apology from Sheila Butt (Associated Press/Johnson)
The Tennessee Legislative Black Caucus on Monday renewed its call for action to be taken against a Republican state lawmaker who they say made a racist Facebook post. The group wants Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia to apologize and for GOP leaders to remove Butt from her leadership position as House majority floor leader. Butt, however, has said her post was misinterpreted, and at least one GOP leader on Monday said he took her word for it and saw no need to reprimand her or demand an apology from her. Butt’s post said, “It is time for a Council on Christian Relations and an NAAWP in this Country.”

270 Tennessee supermarkets expected to sell wine in 2016 (Associated Press)
Tennessee regulators expect 270 stores across the state to be among the first wave of supermarkets to sell wine under a new state law going into effect in July 2016. Keith Bell, the director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, told lawmakers on Monday that those first stores include 109 in Middle Tennessee, 105 in Chattanooga and Knoxville regions and 56 in the western part of the state. Industry projections estimate that 10 times as many grocery stores might choose to sell wine over time. Bell said neither his agency nor the alcohol industry would be prepared if lawmakers decide to move up the date of supermarket wine sales to this July.

Nearly 300 stores among first wave to sell wine in groceries (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Tennessee regulators expect 270 stores across the state to be among the first wave of supermarkets to sell wine under a new state law going into effect in July 2016. The director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission said the first stores include 109 in Middle Tennessee. Industry projections estimate that 10 times as many grocery stores might choose to sell wine over time. The Alcoholic Beverage Commission said neither their agency nor the alcohol industry would be prepared if lawmakers decide to move up the date of grocery store wine sales to this summer.

Some Owners of Private Colleges Turn a Tidy Profit by Going Nonprofit (NY Times)
After a recent government crackdown on the multibillion-dollar career-training industry, stricter limits on student aid and devastating publicity about students hobbled by debt and useless credentials, some for-profit schools simply shut down. But a few others have moved to drop out of the for-profit business altogether, in favor of a more traditional approach to running a higher education institution. And the nonprofit sector, it turns out, can still be quite profitable. Consider Keiser University in Florida. In 2011, the Keiser family, the school’s founder and owner, sold it to a tiny nonprofit called Everglades College, which it had created.

School board: Next teacher survey should be similar to last one (N-S/McCoy)
Knox County school board members agreed on Monday that the next teacher survey that is conducted should be as similar to the last as possible — and allow teachers to share but still keep their anonymity. “We do need to go back and do another survey,” said board member Karen Carson. “I also agree theoretically of using the same questions because then you can compare changes. I don’t just want to get a survey out immediately so that we survey. I want it to be meaningful and I don’t want it to be six months down the line.”

Shelby Co. Schools kicks off new strategy to improve student reading (CA/Roberts)
Shelby County Schools Supt. Dorsey Hopson celebrated Theodor Geisel’s 111th birthday with “The Sneetches and Other Stories” and an audience of second-graders at Sheffield Elementary so lost in his expressive reading, their eyebrows shot up and down like the barometric pressure. More than 45 million schoolchildren participated in Read Across America day on Monday, the 18th annual tribute to Dr. Seuss’s inimitable style and the value of reading out loud, sponsored by the National Education Association. In SCS, the focus comes as the system kicks off a comprehensive strategy to improve how reading is taught.

Construction, land-clearing equipment maker Paladin buys Kodiak (TFP)
A pair of Chattanooga area plants are each expected to gain as they come under the wing of one company that’s now the biggest independent domestic supplier of products in its field. Paladin Attachments, a Michigan-based company with an Ooltewah factory that makes couplers and attachments for construction and land-clearing equipment, has purchased Kodiak Manufacturing in Bradley County, Tenn. Kodiak, based in Charleston, is a maker of agricultural implements, including rotary cutters, soil and gravel movers, and tillers. Joe Shoemaker, Paladin’s marketing director, said that business now is the No. 1 independent domestic supplier of attachment products with the deal.

Tennessee ranked among the worst places to do business (Nashville Biz Journal)
For several years the state of Tennessee has been named as one of the nation’s best states for economic development, with among the best environments for business. A new ranking says Tennessee is one of the worst. The website affiliated with USA Today, 24/7 Wall Street, crunched its own data points and decided that Tennessee is the no. 10 worst state for business. The site used eight categories to assess state business climate: business costs, the overall economy, infrastructure, the quality of the labor force, quality of life, regulation, technology and innovation and the cost of living. It took its information from data reported in 2013.