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TBR’s Batting Order

Members of the Senate Education Committee are planning to play some hard ball with the Tennessee Board of Regents today and tomorrow.

At issue is the board’s controversial appointment of Deputy Gov. John Morgan to the top spot overseeing the state’s higher education system. The Board hired the high-ranking Democrat last month without interviewing any other candidates. Morgan also lacks a doctorate degree, which had traditionally be required for the job until this year.

Senators will begin interviewing all but four of the board’s appointed members Tuesday afternoon. The hearings will likely continue on Wednesday, said Nathan James, a research analyst for the committee.

Here’s the lineup:

Tuesday:

Gregory Duckett

Fran Marcum

J. Stanley Rogers

Judy T. Gooch

John S. “Steve” Copeland

Wednesday:

Gregory Duckett

John Farris

Pam Fansler

Howard Roddy

Barry Gidcomb

Not attending:

Ageina Clark

Jonas Kisber

Robert P. Thomas

Paul Montgomery

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Bredesen Gives MSNBC His Take on Race to the Top

MSNBC is featuring a three-minute video of Gov. Phil Bredesen this week as part of its Education Nation summit, a program exploring how the country can improve teaching and learning.

Bredesen detailed the significance of the $500 million Race to the Top grant Tennessee won earlier this year and explained what it took to get teachers, politicians and unions to support reforming the system.

“Where the jobs are going to come in the future, it’s not about where the rivers come together and the railroads cross any more. It’s where the human capital is that it takes to make those investments successful. And if we want to continue to grow and compete in the decades, we’re going to have to make sure we have that human capital, the young people here, who can do that,” he said.

Bredesen adds that all candidates for governor vowed to support the program, giving Bredesen “considerable confidence” whoever replaces him when he is termed out in January will drive the grants’ initiatives forward.

American students rated 25th in math and 21st in science out of 30 other industrialized countries, according to MSNBC. Meanwhile, 68 percent of 8th-graders can’t read at their grade level and most college students take more than four years to finish their degrees.

Bredesen also sat in on a panel entitled “Kids Can’t Vote: How Can the Politics of Education Put Children First,” but the session has not yet aired on MSNBC’s live stream.

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McWherter Down, But Claims He’s Not Out

After an afternoon pitching himself to the Nashville Rotary Club, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter told reporters he’s comfortable about his position in the race for governor — 31 points behind Republican front-runner Bill Haslam.

He’s right where he wants to be, in fact.

McWherter said he will soon launch an aggressive ad campaign, but said he is waiting until October when he believes voters will begin tuning into the race in earnest.

“We’ve marshaled our resources getting ready for early voting and it’s a strategic move on our part,” said McWherter. “When it starts coming down to the final wire, (voters) really begin to focus and they start listening to what the candidates have to say.”

It’s unclear what direction he will take in those ads, but McWherter has spent the last few weeks going negative on Haslam’s family truck stop business, Pilot Oil Corp.

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Eat Your Vegetables

No, it’s not mom saying that. It’s the State of Tennessee, which posted this reminder Thursday to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

The state says that Tennesseans’ consumption of vegetables ranks above the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes questions about diet in an annual telephone survey on exercise, sleep, smoking and other health topics.

We are in the Land o’ the Meat ‘n’ Three, so that makes sense.

About one-third of Tennesseans surveyed said they ate at least three vegetables a day while just 26.3 percent of respondents nationwide said they did.

Not so with fruit, where the numbers were almost exactly reversed. Just 26.4 percent of Tennesseans said they consume fruit twice a day; nationally, about a third of respondents said the same.

State officials seem intent on influencing, via taxes and laws if necessary, what goes from our plates to our bellies.

The related issue of obesity has been targeted by state policymakers, most recently in a five-year plan including strategies such as regulating land use and levying taxes to favor stores that offer healthy food, promoting school gardens and recruiting ministers to help in the effort.

The question of how to reduce childhood obesity was posed to the candidates for governor earlier this month in their first debate, with candidates suggesting education (Mike McWherter) and a good example (Bill Haslam) as solutions, the Cookeville Times reported.

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TNReport Spotlights Nashville-area Legislator’s Allowances; View All Lawmakers’ Per Diems Online

TNReport recently published a pair of stories focused on Nashville-area lawmakers who accept thousands annually in allowances meant to cover lodging, meals and other incidental expenses. The legislators live so close to the Capitol that they rarely stay in hotel rooms for legislative business, but for the most part they still accept the $185 per diems. (Sens. Douglas Henry and Diane Black and Rep. Mike Stewart return a portion or all of their payments to the state.)

The lawmakers grow accustomed to the extra cash, and many of those interviewed by TNReport seemed not to see the underlying issue — taking money for hotels when they lay down their heads at home — and referred to the allowances as bonus income for the hours they spend in committees crafting laws and trying to fix budget shortfalls.

TNReport readers from places farther away from Nashville can also check out their legislators’ per diems, as well as mileage payments and travel spending, at the Legislative Administration website. It’s not a perfect gauge for how many days your lawmaker has put in because some legislators say they don’t claim the allowance for every day they work. But it should give you a rough idea. The online data goes back to January 2009.

Not sure who represents you? Type in your address to this “Find My Legislator” database, and the online service will tell you.

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VIDEO: Bredesen Reacts to Haslam’s List of Democratic Friends

Outgoing Gov. Phil Bredesen says he’s not surprised that the Republican looking to fill his seat is attracting support from a number of prominent Democrats, including some who were formerly high-ranking members of his administration.

The lame-duck governor said he himself won elections by reaching out to independent and moderate Republicans and said the Democratic candidate, Mike McWherter, will have to do much of the same.

“I absolutely believe that Tennessee is a state where if you’re going to be elected, you have to have your own party, and you’ve got to also reach deeply into independents if you’re going to be elected,” he told reporters Thursday. “That was certainly my strategy in both 2002 and 2006, and it worked well.”

Knoxville Mayor and Republican candidate Bill Haslam announced that 105 prominent Democrats and independents had signed on in support of his campaign. The list includes Bredesen’s former revenue director, Reagan Farr, who left the administration for a job in the private sector earlier this month.

Twelve other former members of Bredesen’s administration crowded Haslam’s support list, including Betsy Child, Bredesen’s former commissioner of environment and conservation, and Robert Gowan, former senior advisor for legislation and policy.

Bredesen said he knew several from his camp were supporting Haslam, but he said he’s asked members of his current administration to avoid endorsing candidates.

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Quick National Press on Nashville Merit-Pay Study

The Washington Post today highlights a Vanderbilt University study released this week that purports to indicate performance-pay schemes for teachers show little success in improving student academic performance.

The study, conducted by the university’s National Center on Performance Incentives, “took place over the 2007 – 2009 school years with participation by mathematics teachers in grades 5 through 8 in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools,” according to an NCPI press release. “Nearly 300 teachers, approximately 70 percent of all middle-school math teachers in Nashville’s public schools, volunteered to participate. The complete study, including setup and analysis, began in 2005 and ended in 2010.”

According to the Post article, headlined “Study undercuts teacher bonuses:”

The study, which the authors and other experts described as the first scientifically rigorous review of merit pay in the United States, measured the effect of financial incentives on teachers in Nashville public schools and found that better pay alone was not enough to inspire gains.

Advocates of performance pay did not immediately challenge the methodology of the study. But they said its conclusions were narrow and failed to evaluate the full package of professional development and other measures that President Obama and philanthropists such as Bill Gates say are crucial to improving America’s public schools.

The article goes on to quote an education policy scholar at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who questioned the breadth of the NCPI study.

“The biggest role of incentives has to do with selection of who enters and who stays in teaching – i.e., how incentives change the teaching corps through entrance and exits,” (Hoover Senior Fellow Eric) Hanushek said. “I have always thought that the effort effects were small relative to the potential for getting different teachers. Their study has nothing to say about this more important issue.”

Erick Huth, president of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association — one of the teachers’ union groups that NCPI executive director Matthew Springer said assisted with the “smooth implementation” of the study — said the results indicate bonus-pay programs “may be a waste of time,” according to the WaPo article.

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Nashville Tax Lawyer Appointed State Revenue Commissioner

Gov. Phil Bredesen swore in a Nashville tax lawyer as the state’s newest revenue commissioner Monday to fill in for Reagan Farr, who left the post earlier this month for a job in the private sector.

Bredesen, who will be termed out of office in January, said he hopes his new appointee, Charles Trost, is kept on by the new administration.

“You just hit the ground running an awful lot faster than you do when you try to completely staff up new departments,” the governor said.

Trost was a tax lawyer with Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis in Nashville before stepping down to take the job as the state’s chief tax collector.

He was also a registered lobbyist, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission.

Trost registered in 2009 and 2010 to represent the Tennessee Automotive Association, expressing interest in issues relating to business and commerce as well as taxation.

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Hearing Set on Hawkins Co. Election Officials’ Early Voting Mistake

At least one set of county election officials who skipped out on offering a day of early voting as required by law will face disciplinary hearings in February.

The Tennessee Election Commission agreed Tuesday to decide whether to punish election officials in Hawkins County, in the Tri-Cities region of East Tennessee, but held off on scheduling a similar hearing for Rutherford County, which was home to narrow primary wins in the 6th Congressional District.

“I want someone to be held accountable,” said Mark Goins, state election coordinator. “It can’t just be a slap on the wrist.”

The state commission has the power to issue administrators a letter of reprimand, cut their pay and put them on probation for failing to follow state election laws. The body can also remove county election commissioners from office.

Both counties neglected to open the polls on the first Saturday of early voting during this summer’s primary election. County election commissioners from Hawkins and Rutherford Counties blame their local election administrators, saying it’s their job to know the law. A lawyer separately representing both administrators says the commissions voted in favor of the early voting days and should also have known the requirements.

State and county officials say they have received no official complaints about the closed primary election polls.

After penciling in Hawkins County for a hearing, officials said they’d revisit whether they need to examine the Rutherford County case because the local election administrator will likely be removed from office or retire before the February meeting, making any disciplinary action moot.

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AG: Board of Regents Decisions Stand

The current makeup of the Tennessee Board of Regents is illegal, but its past decisions still stand, Attorney General Robert Cooper has said in a legal opinion.

Cooper said the state code is silent on this issue, but Tennessee has a long-established history of case law upholding the board’s past decisions.

“Members of such a board or commission who are determined to be ineligible for service for some reason are considered de facto officers whose previous actions while serving on the board or commissioner are regarded as valid,” Cooper wrote in the opinion dated Sept. 17.

The board overseeing the state’s universities, colleges and technical schools is under a cloud of controversy after appointing Gov. Phil Bredesen’s top deputy, John Morgan, the new chancellor in August without interviewing other candidates.

A week later, Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, discovered the Democrat-heavy board was legally bound to have at least three members from the two major political parties. Ketron requested the AG opinion.

Bredesen told reporters Monday that he has a plan in mind to replace several of the Democratic members with Republicans but said he wasn’t ready to speak publicly about it.

The board is due to go before the Senate Education Committee Sept. 28 to talk about how it went about selecting Morgan as chancellor.