April 26 TN News Digest

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

Students, teachers evaluated in annual TCAP assessment (Leaf Chronicle)
Tennessee students and teachers will have the chance this week to show how far they’ve come this school year. The Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP, Achievement Test will measure the reading, language arts, mathematics and science skills of students in grades 3-8. One educator said taking the test is the equivalent of going to the championship game after a long season of study. But until the test is over and the pencils are down, skills and nerves are tested as well. And when it’s over, teachers are graded more than students.

Students prepare for last TCAP (Daily News Journal)
Classrooms at John Pittard Elementary got a little rowdy last week — all in the name of TCAP review. In one classroom, fifth-graders cheered as they competed as teams in an online math quiz going over the concepts they were taught. Across the hall, students spun tiny wheels as they answered math and science questions in a game modeled after the popular Trivia Crack smartphone app. “It’s fun, and as you can see, they’ll learn and be engaged,” said fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Hall, who said she spent weeks assembling the game from practice questions and tests.

Supporters say in-state tuition bill could pass in 2016 (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Several young people made their way to the State Capitol on Wednesday, eager to see if three years of their work would lead to legislative success. Instead, they hit another speed bump, as Tennessee’s House of Representatives killed a bill that would have given eligible undocumented immigrants in-state tuition at public colleges. The defeat — by one vote — was bruising, but lawmakers and advocates remain optimistic that the bill will win more support when lawmakers reconvene next year. Since 2012, hundreds of young people from across the state have been involved in the campaign to support in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Chattanooga-area lawmakers stood out at Capitol this year (TFP/Sher)
You just couldn’t escape Chattanooga-area lawmakers and erupting local controversies in this year’s session of the Tennessee General Assembly. Take Senate Speaker Pro Tem Bo Watson, who publicly berated Volkswagen over its labor-neutral policies during discussion of $165.8 million in proposed incentives for the German automaker’s Chattanooga plant. And Sen. Todd Gardenhire, whose testiness was on full display during and after two debates on Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan. Just check out the YouTube video of the Chattanooga Republican cussing out an East Ridge resident who was heckling him.

Undocumented students face college without TN Promise (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Hundreds of paper stars are hanging from the ceiling of the John Overton High School lobby, bearing the names of graduating seniors and the colleges they will be attending this fall. Kiara Beard: University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Catherine English: Vanderbilt University. Michael Nguyen: Nashville State Community College. But there isn’t a star for Adriana Herrera, despite the fact that she desperately wants to go to college. Weeks away from graduation, the 18-year-old is still clamoring to find a school she can afford.

Tenn at forefront as gay marriage case goes to Supreme Court (TN/Barchenger)
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in a landmark case with Tennessee at the forefront that could legalize gay marriage nationwide. Legal analysts say the case could do for gay couples what historic cases such as Brown v. Board of Education did for black Americans ending segregation and what Roe v. Wade did for women’s rights allowing abortions. “This will be the case everyone refers to 50 years from now as the gay rights case,” said Brian Fitzpatrick, a law professor at Vanderbilt University Law School.

Bass Pro casts wide net at Pyramid (Commercial Appeal/Risher)
Like a shiny lure dancing on the water, daring fish to strike, Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid is ready to reel ‘em in: in at least 2 million customers and more than $100 million in purchases a year. The outdoor goods retail store, attraction and hotel opens with a star-studded conservation fundraiser from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, capping a 10-year expedition that some skeptics believed would come up empty-handed. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton called it “a one-of-a-kind, must-see, national experience that has something for everybody. I can hardly wait to hear the ‘wows’ from people seeing it for the first time.” City officials are banking on the new Bass Pro to boost a $3 billion-a-year area tourism industry that’s on the rise.

Health care officials say merger is best route to serve community (J. City Press)
In merging the Tri-Cities’ two health care nonprofits, Alan Levine says he hopes to tear down the curtains pulled in place over the past two decades separating communities and people into one hospital system or the other. “If you’re locked in this unhealthy, toxic relationship, you’re basically just surviving, there’s no research and no innovation,” Levine told the Johnson City Press’ editorial board Thursday. Levine is currently the CEO of Johnson City-based Mountain States Health Alliance, and is set to be the executive chairman of the board governing the new system created by a merger with Kingsport’s Wellmont Health System.


Guest columnist: Higher education funding must keep growing in future (N-S)
In the years ahead, public higher education in Tennessee faces some serious challenges. Any state’s higher educational system is a major driver of its economy. It is a producer of intellectual capital. It produces a well-educated workforce that attracts capital investment, which, in turn, creates jobs and raises the standard of living. It produces a more civil and cohesive society. It requires a significant financial investment. But when population growth outstrips funding capacity to educate and serve the people, problems arise. That has been the case in Tennessee for several years. One result has been ever-increasing tuition costs. This in turn has led to complaints from students and parents, and griping from legislators who have continuously underfunded higher education in the state.

Editorial: Successes pale in face of rejection of Insure Tennessee (News-Sentinel)
The 2015 session of the 109th Tennessee General Assembly will be remembered for its monumental failure rather than any of its successes. The Legislature ended its session Thursday with its annual stampede of last-minute bills. Left behind was Insure Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to expand health care coverage to an estimated 280,000 citizens — a majority of them among the working poor — at no cost to Tennessee taxpayers. A Senate committee killed the measure during a special session in February, depriving the rest of the Legislature — and, more importantly, the citizens of Tennessee — of a full and open debate. Insure Tennessee was revived in the regular session and survived one Senate committee vote but not a second one.

Tom Humphrey: Recognition due to best and worst of session (News-Sentinel)
Some superlative performances during the 2015 session of the 109th Tennessee General Assembly, which concluded last week: Most successful major conflict resolution: Back during contentious committee hearings on Common Core standards, Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, declared he had an “epiphany” to resolve the issue and convinced colleagues to put everything on hold while it was fleshed out in quiet negotiations. The unanimously-approved upshot, known in Legislatorland as “the epiphany bill” (HB1035), left both sides declaring victory. It does declare Common Core will be repealed, the goal of critics, but only after replacement standards are developed by a committee that will have a majority of its members appointed by the House and Senate speakers instead of Haslam’s plan for a governor-appointed group.