- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

May 20

Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel on college funding:

The freeze in Tennessee’s higher education expenditures for next year is disappointing for the public colleges and universities that embraced the state’s new funding formula.

Instead of looking for ways to collaborate on efforts to reach Gov. Bill Haslam’s ambitious Drive to 55 campaign, higher education institutions in Tennessee will be tempted to fight each other for dollars and rely even more heavily on student tuition and fees to meet expenses.

The Complete College Tennessee Act was passed in 2010 and has received national attention for its innovative funding formula. The law did away with the longstanding practice of funding campuses based on enrollment and replaced it with a formula based on outcomes such as completed credit hours and graduation rates.

During the current fiscal year, the first under the performance-based formula, Haslam fully funded the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s budget recommendation by devoting an extra $35.5 million to campuses across the state.

The Higher Education Commission recommended a $29.6 million increase for next year, but Haslam proposed only a $9.3 million increase. When revenues came in $260 million under projections, he withdrew all new funding for higher education.

As a result, all the formula accomplishes is a redistribution of dollars among the Board of Regents institutions and the University of Tennessee campuses.

Some campuses will be rewarded for improvements, just as the Complete College Tennessee Act intended. Austin Peay State University, for example, will see a 3.16 percent increase in state appropriations. The UT campuses will receive increases ranging from 2.19 percent at Knoxville to 3.25 percent at Martin.

Other institutions, however, will see their appropriations cut, even though they showed improvements in the formula’s measurements. The University of Memphis will lose $343,500 instead of gains it would have made under the formula.

Roane State Community College will enjoy the highest jump of all Tennessee institutions at 4.21 percent. The deepest cut in appropriations will be at Southwest Community College - 4.59 percent.

The Tennessee Board of Regents system, which includes universities, community colleges and technical training centers - will lose nearly $5.7 million to the UT system.

“If this budget isn’t an anomaly and becomes practice, it creates an environment where one school’s success may come at another school’s expense,” said Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan.

Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, which aims to raise the number of Tennessee adults with post-secondary degrees or certificates to 55 percent by 2025, relies on institutions working together, not squabbling over scraps. An underfunded appropriations formula, no matter how innovative, is meaningless. If funding does not improve next year, Tennesseans should apply this formula to state leaders: Promises without dollars equal platitudes.




May 19

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tennessee, on kids being locked in cars:

“I’ll only be a minute.”

That can be a fatal thought for a driver who leaves a small child locked in a car while dashing into a store or running an errand.

A new survey found that even though most parents have heard of the danger of hot cars, 14 percent nationally have intentionally left children unattended in a locked car. That amounts to as many as 3.3 million children up to 6 years old.

Fathers were three times more likely to take a chance than mothers.

Since 1998, the study found, 606 children across the nation have died of vehicle heatstroke, 28 of them in Tennessee. Tennessee’s last year for such deaths was 2012, when three children died.

The Tennessee legislature this year passed a law empowering bystanders who see young children alone in a hot car to break a window without having to pay damages. (The law requires rescuers to call 911 before taking action.) The survey said 37 percent of parents say they have seen a young child alone in a vehicle, but did nothing.

But the real burden is on parents and caregivers, who in haste may not realize how quickly temperatures in a closed vehicle can rise to the danger point. The bodies of children heat up at least three times faster than adults, research has shown.

A variety of technological tools on the market could help remind parents that a child is in the car, but researchers found none that is fault-proof.

For parents, memory props may be life-saving. One suggestion is to keep a stuffed animal in the child’s car seat when it is empty. Then when a child is put into the car seat, move the toy animal to the front passenger’s seat as a reminder that there’s a kid aboard.

The best advice, of course, is never to leave a child alone in a locked car.

And don’t blow a gasket if you come back to your car and find some good samaritan has broken out a window to save your child’s life.




May 19

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on TVA and renewable sources:

The issue flies below the radar for most of us in Shelby County as we go about our daily tasks, such as flipping a switch and taking it for granted that the lights will go on.

But it would be hard to overestimate the importance of a decision to be made this year by the Tennessee Valley Authority that will have long-term effects on this community’s economic and physical health.

The TVA supplies power to Shelby County through Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, making it possible for us to assume that the lights will go on when we hit that switch.

The decision it must make is whether to retire the outdated, pollution-producing Allen Fossil Plant.

The 54-year-old coal-fired electricity generating facility in Southwest Memphis could be replaced by a new plant that burns natural gas.

Or the TVA could spend hundreds of millions of dollars installing scrubbers on the smokestacks at the plant to remove some of the nasty stuff they carry into the atmosphere.

Whatever the verdict turns out to be, the payoff for the public will be in better health.

Power generation plants such as Allen, which burns 7,200 tons of coal daily, contribute to the production of ozone, which, when breathed at the ground level, seriously inhibits lung capacity, producing such symptoms as coughing, throat irritation, wheezing and shortness of breath. It even increases the risk of mortality, especially among older adults.

Such plants also are on their way out of the power picture because of concerns about climate change, particulate pollution, acid rain and the kinds of risks associated with coal ash ponds, which can spill over and produce environmental disasters.

The decision at the Allen Fossil Plant is part of an update under way of TVA’s power generation plan covering the next 10 to 20 years, which must go beyond the question of what to do with its Memphis facility.

Most utilities in the United States, including the TVA, are coming to terms with the fact that coal and natural gas are nonrenewable sources of energy that must be augmented and eventually replaced by renewable sources such as solar, wind and methane, and that they must lead the way toward introducing greater energy efficiency to the system.

While TVA resets its strategy, it must balance the public’s demand for a steady, reliable source of power well into the future with the necessity to make progress toward the conversion to renewable sources.

Coal- and gas-fired plants generated 38 percent of TVA’s power in fiscal 2013. Nuclear generators produced 32 percent, hydroelectric dams 13 percent, natural gas plants 8 percent. The amount of power produced by clean, renewable sources such as wind, the sun and methane was, and is, quite small.

Developing the precise formula for that balance won’t be an easy task. Power production is a ship that cannot be turned on a dime. But we owe future generations some progress on that front now.



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