- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015
New law overhauls special education funding in Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A bill passed by Tennessee lawmakers could give parents of severely disabled children more than $6,000 a year to spend on education and therapies that they choose, though critics say the measure hands the money to parents with few safeguards.

Traditional vouchers give families whose children attend poor-performing public schools a way to pay for private schools. A measure in that vein failed this year, but lawmakers did approve the program for disabled children, giving parents much more freedom to determine how to spend the money. It is not clear if Gov. Bill Haslam will sign the bill into law.

The money, a combination of state and local funds, could be used for private school tuition, approved therapies and tutoring. Participating parents would waive their federal right to an Individualized Education Program, which mandates that public schools provide disability-related services designed to meet a student’s unique learning needs. Some worry that waiving that right means less money for both the child that leaves and the local school district because of the loss of federal dollars.

Public school officials and parents have plenty of concerns. Some worry that children will leave for private schools that are ill-equipped, only to come back and need even more help. They also say that the program siphons money away from public schools, effectively taking dollars away from disabled children who remain in public schools.

Some also were concerned about fly-by-night operations bilking the system. They aren’t sure $6,600 a year is enough to ensure standards will remain in place to make sure children get what they need.

But supporters say safeguards are in place. For instance, parents would have to choose from state-approved vendors. And some parents say it gives them options for children who simply can’t attend a traditional school.

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East Tennessee jury convicts women in Facebook slayings

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (AP) - A jury in East Tennessee on Tuesday convicted a mother and daughter in a double slaying that prosecutors said was prompted by the younger woman being deleted as a friend on Facebook.

The jury in Jonesborough found 64-year-old Barbara Potter and 35-year-old Jenelle Potter of Mountain City guilty of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree murder, media reported. Barbara Potter was also found guilty of tampering with evidence.

Both women were sentenced to life in prison. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for June 17 to determine whether the sentences will be served consecutively or concurrently.

The two were convicted in the 2012 slayings of 36-year-old Billy Payne and 23-year-old Billie Jean Hayworth, who were found dead inside their Johnson City home.

Prosecutors said they were satisfied with the verdict. Jenelle Potter’s lawyer, Cameron Hyder, attended by teleconference. He said later by phone he had hoped for a different outcome. Barbara Potter’s lawyers didn’t comment.

Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brook says the killings happened after Jenelle Potter was “unfriended” by the couple on Facebook.

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In Kentucky primary, GOP looks to Tennessee for inspiration

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Just south of Monroe County, between the Kentucky border and a meandering stream called Chicken Branch, sits 199 acres of Tennessee farmland owned by Republican candidate for governor James Comer.

Across the border in Kentucky is another 250 acre swath of Comer’s land, except this land is worth $122,000 less than its Tennessee counterpart. In fact, all of Comer’s Tennessee land is worth about $1,000 more per acre than his Kentucky land, and Comer says he knows why.

“They have elected a Republican governor who is focused on passing a pro-business agenda,” Comer said. “Tennessee has already done all the things that I want to do in Kentucky.”

While the Republican candidates for governor have slogans like “Putting Kentucky First” and “Fighting to defend our Kentucky values,” they look to Tennessee as a model for their potential administrations. Tennessee has passed laws banning mandatory union membership and limiting how much money people can win in civil lawsuits against corporations. And the state has no personal income tax, aside from a 6 percent tax on earnings from stocks and bonds.

Kentucky’s Democratic governor, who isn’t seeking re-election because of term limits, finds much to ridicule in the GOP contenders’ neighbor-envy.

“I would suggest (all the Republican candidates) move to Tennessee,” Gov. Steve Beshear said. “I think Kentuckians really would rather be Kentuckians because they don’t like Tennessee really well.”

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Tennessee senator had son on state benefits

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, who twice voted against Medicaid expansion in Tennessee, told a newspaper that his adult son had “never” been signed up for state benefits.

Then he called The Tennessean (https://tnne.ws/1IxJ2Q8) back on Monday to “eat crow,” saying that he was wrong.

The exchange came after Gardenhire denied in February that he had health coverage though the state, but later corrected himself. That exchange led to the Tennessean asking for records on lawmakers who receive state health insurance and the cost to taxpayers. Records showed that his son had been covered.

When first asked, Gardenhire denied that his son had ever had benefits through the state.

“I do not and never have had. You guys continually misprint information about me. I really don’t appreciate it. I have never had a child on my insurance. Never. That is spelled with a capital N.”

Gardenhire said he then checked with Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration, who confirmed that him his son, Andrew Gardenhire, was on the plan in 2012 and 2013.

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