September 19 TN News Digest

by TN Press Release Center on September 19, 2012

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

Tenn. announces new college savings plan (Associated Press/Johnson)

A new college savings plan in Tennessee aims to help more students afford a higher education, state officials announced Tuesday. Gov. Bill Haslam, joined by the state treasurer and both legislative speakers, announced the “TNStars College Savings 529 Program.” The governor called the plan a “great opportunity for Tennesseans who want to attend college.” “There are a lot of issues around why Tennessee is behind the national average in college attendance and college graduation, but affordability and access is at the heart of those issues,” he said.

Tennessee gets college saving program (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Treasurer David Lillard announced Tuesday the creation of what they say is a new, easy way to help parents and students save for college. The “Tennessee Stars College Savings 529 Program” is intended to provide a low-cost way for families to save for increasingly expensive higher education expenses. It will replace a current state-sponsored program that Haslam said is “piggy backing” on Georgia’s program. “That didn’t seem right,” Haslam said at a news conference in which he credited Lillard for coming up with Tennessee’s own program for college savings.

Tennessee announces new college savings plan (Commercial Appeal)

State officials on Tuesday announced a new college savings plan in Tennessee aimed at helping more students afford a higher education. Gov. Bill Haslam, joined by the state treasurer and both legislative speakers, announced the “TNStars College Savings 529 Program.” The governor called the plan a “great opportunity for Tennesseans who want to attend college.” “There are a lot of issues around why Tennessee is behind the national average in college attendance and college graduation, but affordability and access is at the heart of those issues,” he said.

Tennessee families have a new way to save for college (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

State officials have introduced a new way for families to save for college. Governor Bill Haslam, Tennessee Treasurer David H. Lillard, Jr., Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell unveiled the Tennessee Stars College Savings 529 Program Tuesday morning at the Adventure Science Center Planetarium in Nashville. The program offers family and friends a low-cost way to save for children’s college expenses with attractive investment options and special tax advantages.

Tennessee Launches New College Savings Plan (WREG-TV Memphis)

Face it, the price of college has been rising every year and by the time a child born this year hits a college campus, it could cost parents a small fortune. “There are a lot of issues on why Tennessee is behind the national average in college attendance and college graduation, but affordability and access is at the heart fo those issues,” says Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. It’s why he is introducing the Tennessee Stars College Savings 529 Program. It replaces the Path2College 529 that Tennessee started with Georgia about four 4 years ago.

New Tennessee program helps families save money for college (WCYB-TV)

The Volunteer State has a new college savings plan and officials hope it will help parents and students afford a higher education. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced the Tennessee Stars College Savings 529 Program on Tuesday. Smart students means better business. Representatives in Nashville say Tennessee needs a highly-educated workforce to continue to attract businesses and new jobs to the Volunteer State. “With a better-educated workforce, Tennesseans and businesses in Tennessee can continue to cooperate and succeed,” said State Treasurer David Lillard.

State’s Rebooted College-Savings Plan Unveiled (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee is rebooting an option for parents looking to save money for their kids’ college. It’s a tax-exempt account to save for tuition, fees, dorm rooms and books – something the state hasn’t offered for the last couple years. The state folded its earlier college-savings plan, which partnered with Georgia, when few people signed up. State officials say things are different this time because analysts at Tennessee’s own treasury will manage the investments. But the economy still isn’t what it could be.

Haslam: State takes no pleasure in keeping funds from Metro (CP/Garrison)

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Tuesday that withholding $3.4 million from Metro Nashville Public Schools following its rejection of Great Hearts Academies’ charter proposal “was not a decision that anybody at the state takes any pleasure in.” “But we also think that we are a state of laws,” Haslam added, as he stood next to House Speaker Beth Harwell, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “When state law is violated –– really on a decision not once but twice –– after proper warning from not only us as the state but also from the board’s own attorney, we felt like it was very important to act.”

Nashville to lose $3M for rejecting charter school (Associated Press)

The state Department of Education is withholding $3.4 million in funding from the public school system in Nashville over a rejected charter school. The Metro Nashville school board last week defied an order by the state Board of Education to approve the application from Phoenix-based Great Hearts Academies. Members of the city’s school board said they were concerned the charter school planned to draw from affluent white families, rather than to bring in students from other parts of the city to create a more diverse student body.

State docks Metro Schools more than $3 million for rejecting Great Hearts (CP)

In response to the Metro School Board’s rejection of Great Hearts Academies’ charter application, the state Department of Education announced that it is withholding more than $3 million in administrative funds from the county in October. The money, part of the non-classroom portion of the Basic Education Program funding formula, will be reallocated to other districts in Tennessee. “We were all hopeful that Metro Nashville’s school board would obey the law and avoid this situation. It is our job to enforce state law, and we have no choice but to take this action,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

State Stiffs Metro Millions Over Great Hearts Rejection (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Metro Schools won’t receive some $3.4 million it was expecting from the state next month. Governor Bill Haslam says it’s punishment after the Metro school board repeatedly voted to break state law. So far, how Metro will handle the funding gap is not clear. Metro Board members worried the Arizona-based charter Great Hearts might indirectly filter which students it enrolled, possibly along racial lines. The board refused to authorize Great Hearts, even after the state told it to on appeal, and its own lawyers warned it was breaking state law.

State to Withhold Administrative Funding from Nash Public Schools (TN Report)

The Tennessee Department of Education today informed Metro Nashville Public Schools that the state is withholding approximately $3.4 million of non-classroom, administrative funding from the school system, as a consequence of the district’s refusal to follow state law. The money represents the non-classroom components of the state’s Basic Education Program funding formula. The state is withholding this portion of October’s funds based on the Metro Nashville Public School Board’s refusal to follow Tennessee’s charter school law in its meetings on Aug. 14 and Sept. 11.

Nashville schools to lose $3.4M over rejection of Great Hearts (Tennessean/Rau)

TN Department of Education to withhold funds after Metro school board rejected charter school The money that state officials are planning to withhold from Metro Nashville Public Schools is from a pool of funds that pays for many services related to students, according to a statement released by the school system just after noon today. The roughly $3.4 million in non-classroom administrative funds that state officials plan to withhold is part of a pool that includes student transportation, utilities and maintenance for 5,000 classrooms and more than 80,000 students, according to the statement.

Partisan battle intensifies feud over charter school (Tennessean/Fingeroot)

Lawmakers are furious about Metro’s $3.4M loss A decision by the state to withhold almost $3.4 million from Metro Nashville Public Schools for defying an order to approve a charter school escalated an already simmering partisan battle over whose political philosophy will shape public schools. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam stopped just short Tuesday of saying a statewide charter school authorizer would be on his legislative agenda when the session begins in January. But Democratic representatives are lining up behind the Metro school board and every district’s right to make decisions for its constituency.

Gov. Haslam announces grants for parks, communities (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Monday afternoon, Governor Bill Haslam was in East Tennessee to announce which parks and communities could be getting some additional help for community projects. He visited the Oliver Springs City Hall to hand out community development grants and local parks and recreation grants. Among the lucky recipients, Oliver Springs and Lenoir City both received $500,000 for water or sewer system improvements. Cocke County got nearly the same amount for a water line extension, and Clinton received $339,000 for housing rehabilitation.

‘Jackpot’: Governor announces $961,000 in grants (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam rolled into this small city Tuesday with four poster-sized, ceremonial “big checks” to hand out, and Oliver Springs took home the lion’s share of those awards. “Anderson County, Clinton and Oliver Springs have hit the jackpot today,” Haslam said during his brief visit. He handed out grants worth $961,000. Haslam has made it a policy when possible to visit cities and counties for grant announcements. “We’re really on the initial leg of announcing some CDBG grants across the state,” he said.

Former WCMS Student Receives Proclamation From Governor Haslam (C. Now)

A Clarksville girl, 15 year old Skylar Hughes, was presented with a proclamation from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam Tuesday for her work in remembering five people from Clarksville who died a year ago from carbon monoxide poisoning. The five people, Tim Stone, Jim Wall, Allison Bagwell-Wyatt and Jon and Katy Over died from carbon monoxide, September 18, 2011 in a camper they shared at the Bikers Who Care Leslie W. Watson Memorial Toy Run and Benefit Party at the Clarksville Speedway. As they slept, the five victims were overcome by carbon monoxide from a generator that was placed outside a rented camper.

2-year degrees pay off quicker for graduates (Times Free-Press/Smith)

Sophomore Ben Fischer wants to pursue psychology. His older brother, UTC senior Will Fischer, dreams of opening his own business after he gets his accounting degree. “That’s what I’m going for, a college education,” the older brother said. But a new study shows that both of them might be better off in the health care field. They would make more money right away, save two extra years of their lives and spend less on education. The report, sponsored in part by Tennessee’s taxpayers, shows that graduates with associate degrees earned $1,000 more on average in their first year than those who stayed in school for two extra years.

Tennessee evaluating office building here (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

State General Services Commissioner Mark Cates said Tuesday he isn’t ready just yet to declare that the Chattanooga State Office Building and its operating systems are “obsolete.” Department officials are looking at a consultant’s findings “and evaluating those,” he said. After the state’s consulting firm, Jones Lang LaSalle, studied problems and usage at 33 office buildings owned and operated by General Services, it said the 58-year-old, seven-story McCallie Avenue structure is one of four “old and obsolete” buildings with inefficient space plans and numerous structural or operating system needs.

Ensafe wins $5 million contract with state of Tennessee (Memphis Biz Journal)

Memphis-based EnSafe Inc. has been awarded a $5 million environmental services contract from the state of Tennessee. The contract is expected to extend between three and five years and will be administered through the Tennessee Department of General Services for environmental services to state properties, interests and initiatives The work will include consulting, assessments, surveys, monitoring, training and remediation for environmental regulatory compliance around the state.

Imagination Library thanks postal workers (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Harris)

This week, the Knox County Imagination Library is showing its gratitude for a special group of individuals who help make the organization’s goals achievable. “Imagination Library Week is a special time to bring awareness to the organization and its role in developing essential pre-literacy skills,” said board chairwoman Bonny Naugher in a news release. “And what better way to celebrate than by thanking the postal workers who make this program possible.” The organization’s Thank a Postal Worker program, which kicked off on Monday, provides children with the opportunity to present their mail carrier with a special thank-you card.

UT: Prayer before games not unconstitutional (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Praying before football games at Neyland Stadium does not violate the U.S. Constitution, University of Tennessee officials said Tuesday. The university is still formulating its response to a cease-and-desist letter sent last week by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but the administration does not believe there is anything wrong with the long-standing tradition of a pre-kickoff invocation, said Margie Nichols, vice chancellor for communications. The letter arrived about a week after UT-Chattanooga announced it would replace prayer with a moment of silence before games in response to a complaint from the foundation.

Study: Tennessee’s Obesity Rate Could Climb to 63 % by 2030. (WPLN-Radio Nash)

The number of obese Tennesseans could double by 2030. The Annual “F as in Fat” report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust For America’s Health looked at data from the last two decades to predict future trends. By the year 2030, the study says more than 63 % of Tennessee residents will be obese. That would make Tennessee the fourth fattest state in the nation. Jeff Levi is one of the authors of the report. He says the future numbers are based on how many Tennessee children have serious weight issues now.

63.4% of Tennesseans could be obese by 2013: report (Nashville Business Journal)

Here’s a consideration for those looking to lower health care costs: Tennessee is on track to more than double its statewide obesity rate by 2030, an epidemic that could cost tax payers billions of dollars. The “F as in Fat” report, released Tuesday by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, estimates that Tennessee will be the fourth fattest state by 2030, with an obesity rate that could reach 63.4 percent. That’s up from 29 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

State’s obesity forecast not rosy (Johnson City Press)

Predictions say Tennessee may soon be going through a growth spurt, but it may not be one the state is proud to be a part of. According to a Tuesday Associated Press story, more than half the Americans in 39 states will be obese by 2030, with Tennessee predicted to be at a 63 percent obesity level. Projections by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation come from results based on state-by-state surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1999 to 2010.

Group: 39 states’ obesity to pass 50% (Associated Press)

A group campaigning against obesity predicts that more than half the people in 39 U.S. states will be obese — not merely overweight, but obese — by 2030. Mississippi is expected to keep its crown as the fattest state in America for at least two more decades. The report predicts 67 percent of that state’s adults will be obese by 2030. That would be an astounding increase from the current 35 percent. The new projections were released Tuesday by Trust for America’s Health with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Health aside, obesity costing U.S. billions (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Martin)

Obesity isn’t only a health issue, it is also an economic problem costing Americans billions of dollars every year. And — unless current trends slow — costs will rise even more over the next decades. Tennessee could spend more than $12 billion a year on obesity-related health costs by 2020 and Georgia could spend nearly $20 billion, according to a study released Tuesday. Alabama is projected to spend nearly $9 billion annually in less than eight years.

Tennessee ranks third for high blood pressure (Tennessean/Wilemon)

A new report shows that Tennessee is no longer among the 10 fattest states, but its residents remain at higher risk for high blood pressure and diabetes. Tennessee was 15th for obesity, sixth for diabetes, second for physical inactivity and third for high blood pressure in the “F as in Fat” report released Tuesday by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Dr. Jennifer Carman sees the faces behind the figures. “I would probably say 80 percent of the patients I see have high blood pressure because that’s what brings people into their physician’s office in the first place,” said Carman, an internist with Heritage Medical Associates.

Memphis delays final vote on nondiscrimination language (CA/Maki)

The Memphis City Council approved including sexual orientation in a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, but delayed a final vote on the measure for 30 days while legal experts research whether the legislation would violate the city’s charter. City Councilman Lee Harris originally sponsored an ordinance to ban the city from discriminating against individuals based on “age, ethnicity, national origin and disability. Harris and councilman Shea Flinn amended the measure Tuesday to include sexual orientation in the list. That amendment was approved 7-5, but council members later voted to delay their final vote after the city attorney and the council’s attorney raised questions about the legality of the amendment and whether it would require a referendum.

DesJarlais bill targets debt left by service members (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Marine Lance Cpl. Andrew Carpenter wanted a life after serving in Afghanistan, so he attended community college, took some classes at Middle Tennessee State University and signed off on a $20,000 student loan to pay for his studies. But a sniper in Helmand province ended Carpenter’s plans. The 27-year-old Columbia, Tenn., native died last year of combat injuries long before completing his mass communications degree at MTSU. The private company that lent money to Carpenter forgave the unpaid debt. The Internal Revenue Service wasn’t so kind. Just like forgiven debt on credit cards and personal loans, the IRS classifies waived student debt as taxable income. For the Carpenters, that translated to about $2,000 in taxes after the death of their Marine.

THA Warns of Hospital Closures Due to Federal Cuts (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The Tennessee Hospital Association is warning of possible closures if federal spending is reduced as planned. The first in nearly a nearly decade of planned cuts begins October 1st. A third of Tennessee’s hospitals are already losing money, according to the association that represents them. THA president Craig Becker says those that see mostly TennCare and Medicare patients will be stretched, some of them beyond the breaking point. “We try not to be the ones carrying the pitchforks and torches, but this is one of those times where it really is pretty scary about what could happen.”

Y-12 security contractor says it wasn’t trying to cheat (News-Sentinel/Munger)

WSI admits test info was inappropriately distributed WSI-Oak Ridge says it wasn’t trying to cheat. WSI acknowledged Tuesday that test information was distributed inappropriately to guards at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in advance of a security evaluation, but a spokeswoman for the protective forces subcontractor said there was no “intentional wrongdoing” by WSI employees. Courtney Henry said the company conducted a detailed and thorough investigation to address allegations that the tests had been provided to guards in order to gain an advantage on the security evaluation.

Preparation begins on potential VW expansion site (Times Free-Press/Pare)

Volkswagen pushes production of its Chattanooga-made Passat, site work will start soon to prepare a parcel possibly to mirror the existing plant. A city panel on Tuesday awarded a $3 million contract to Wright Brothers Construction Co. for the work next to the factory. While VW officials say no expansion of the assembly plant on the site is imminent, City Engineer Bill Payne said the state will pay for the work to move about 1 million cubic yards of dirt from one part of the tract to another.

Nashville General Hospital’s inpatient services may end (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Site considers options to refocus care Losing money and market share, Nashville General Hospital may stop trying to compete for inpatient hospitalizations and focus entirely on outpatient and clinical services. That is one of four options presented to the hospital board Tuesday by a consulting firm hired to devise a new business model for the publicly owned, safety-net hospital. Meharry Medical College leaders said closing inpatient beds would harm its mission. But hospital officials say Nashville General has a building too big for its needs and too many uninsured patients.

Nashville is on hook for millions even if Predators don’t play (Tennessean/Brown)

City officials are nervously watching the labor impasse between the National Hockey League and its players, knowing that they still have to write checks to the Nashville Predators even if there’s no hockey season. Under terms of Metro government’s agreement with the team, it will still be on the hook for millions of dollars in subsidies to the Predators even if the games don’t resume. On Saturday night, a lockout was instituted after the league and its players failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement.

Expert gives school testing an F (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Hardy)

The American education system may not be as bad as you think. While reform-minded individuals cite our country’s low standing on international rankings, Diane Ravitch, a national education author, researcher and historian, made the opposite case Tuesday night. She said reformers are pushing a “phony narrative” that puts down the public school system and blames bad teachers for low performance. That narrative has allowed reformers to pass policies in Tennessee and other states, she said, that give increased weight to test scores, weaken the role of teachers unions and get rid of teachers easier.

Newbern police arrest man after discovering meth lab components (State Gazette)

Newbern Police have arrested a suspect after they allegedly found numerous items used in the production of meth on North Grayson St. on Thursday. Jody Floyd, 41, 1901 Ross St., Dyersburg, Tenn., is charged with promotion of methamphetamine manufacture, failure to appear, and violation of probation. Floyd’s arrest took place at 116 North Grayson St. after Newbern Police investigators received information from an informant that Floyd was possibly cooking methamphetamine.

California: Redevelopment in California: The Program That Disappeared (Stateline)

Blame it on the mermaids. Only in California could the demise of a state program intended to help cities counter urban blight be linked to a dive bar in the state capital. Actually that’s what it’s called, the Dive Bar, on K Street near the capitol building in Sacramento. Its 7,500-gallon aquarium often contains live “mermaids,” and it was one of many projects that benefited from a statewide redevelopment program that Governor Jerry Brown eliminated last year to help dig California out of its perennially huge deficit.

Illinois: Union Vote Ends Strike by Teachers in Chicago (Wall Street Journal)

Chicago teachers union officials voted Tuesday to end a strike that halted classes for 350,000 students and illustrated the intensifying national debate over how teachers are evaluated, hired and fired. Classes are expected to resume Wednesday, city officials said, bringing a close to the seven-day strike in the nation’s third-largest school district. Tuesday’s vote by the union’s governing body came days after the city and the teachers union reached a tentative deal on a three-year contract. The union’s full membership must now ratify that deal in a vote that union leaders said would come within the next couple of weeks.

Pennsylvania: PA high court wants review of voter ID access (Commercial Appeal)

Pennsylvania’s highest court on Tuesday told a lower court judge to stop a tough new law requiring voters to show photo identification from taking effect in this year’s presidential election if he finds voters cannot get easy access to ID cards or if he thinks voters will be disenfranchised. The 4-2 decision by the state Supreme Court sends the case back to a Commonwealth Court judge who initially rejected a request to stop the divisive law from going forward. The high court asked the judge, Robert Simpson, for his opinion by Oct. 2.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Higher education decisions are enhanced by salary study (J. Sun)

A new study released on Monday sheds light on the value of post-secondary education by reporting what students earn in various fields after graduation. It is valuable information that can help students and parents plan for college and career readiness. The report also contains a few surprises. The study was conducted by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development and College Measures, a nonpartisan group that analyzes higher education data. The effort matched student records with state unemployment insurance data from 2006-10. The finding confirmed what already is known, a college education is a good investment, and people with college degrees generally earn more than people without degrees.

Gail Kerr: Students will take brunt of school board’s blunder (Tennessean)

The true victims in this ongoing spitting contest between the Metro School Board and the state Department of Education? Children. Because there is simply no way Metro can cut $3.4 million from its public schools budget without impacting the kids. The grown-ups on both sides have drawn lines in the sand over the effort by an Arizona-based nonprofit charter school to open a Great Hearts Academy here. It was the first charter to apply under a state open enrollment law that says any public school child can attend any charter. Great Hearts’ leaders wanted to put it in a mostly white neighborhood, which created fears that it essentially would be a publicly funded private school. In response to critics, the school’s leaders came up with a transportation plan to bring in a more diverse student body.

Guest columnist: Politics isn’t behind Metro’s refusal of Great Hearts (Tennessean)

While the whole escapade regarding Great Hearts and its application to open charters in Nashville has been extremely convoluted, it really is not so complicated. The Great Hearts organization and its millionaire backers have demonstrated the epitome of arrogance and contempt toward the Metro Nashville Public Schools staff and the school board. Their attempt to open a charter school in the affluent West Nashville area is designed to attract white, affluent children back into the school system. While there is nothing wrong with this intent, it must not be accomplished at the expense of other public school children. is almost comical to accuse the school board of playing politics in their refusal to approve the application as proposed. We must ask ourselves: Is being concerned about diversity “politics?”

Editorial: Expanding the Gates initiative (Commercial Appeal)

Having the best teachers possible in the classrooms of the new unified school district when it launches next August should be a goal on which all the Shelby County unified school board members can agree. There should be no disagreement that teachers across the unified district should be trained and offered opportunities to enhance their skills in a consistent manner. In that vein, it was a positive to learn that local school administrators are asking the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for up to $10 million more to extend the teacher effectiveness agenda to as many as 3,200 county teachers by the time the systems merge. It is up to the Gates Foundation, of course, to determine the appropriate response to the grant request. But the request is grounded in the reasons why the foundation saw fit to invest $90 million in the Memphis City Schools Teacher Effectiveness Initiative, which has helped improve the skills of classroom teachers.

Frank Munger: Will security mess decide Y-12 contract? (News-Sentinel)

One of the open-ended questions since the July 28 break-in at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant has been this: How will the unprecedented security breach at Oak Ridge affect the ongoing contract competition to determine who’s going to manage Y-12 and its production partner, the Pantex warhead assembly/disassembly plant in Texas? Three teams submitted their proposals in March for the big contract, which for the first time will combine the management of the two plants that are 1,150 miles apart. The National Nuclear Security Administration has been mulling those proposals ever since, although the NNSA recently revised the contract offering to include the protective services for the two plants.

 

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