- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


Feb. 15

The Knoxville News Sentinel on improving guidance for students:

A recent report from the Tennessee Department of Education contains troubling data about the state’s high school graduates.

While graduation rates are up and the need for remedial work in community colleges is down, too many graduates are not ready to pursue post-secondary educations.

The trend threatens to undermine Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative, which seeks to ensure 55 percent of Tennessee adults have a post-secondary degree or training certificate by 2025.

“We find strong evidence that too few students receive sufficient guidance from counselors, teachers, and staff in their schools to ensure that they are on pathways leading to postsecondary completion and successful careers,” the report states.

The report, titled “Seamless Pathways: Bridging Tennessee’s Gap Between High School and Postsecondary,” is sobering.

Of the students who graduated from Tennessee high schools in 2008, only 23 percent earned a post-secondary degree or credential within six years. More than one-third did not even try.

Nearly half of economically disadvantaged graduates bypassed college or technical training, putting them at high risk of remaining in poverty as adults.

Amazingly, one-third of Tennessee high school graduates obtain their diplomas without completing the state-mandated course requirements. Such shortcomings set students up for failure after high school.

In addition to compiling data, the Department of Education convened focus groups totaling 170 high school students from 33 schools across the state. The students, according to the report, described the challenges they faced navigating from high school to post-secondary life.

One of the most disturbing findings is the failure of teachers to recognize the dilemma their students are facing. “High school teachers appear unaware of the extent of the problem,” the report states, “with most teachers even in our most challenged schools saying that students are well informed and plan to attend postsecondary.”

One key failure of the system is that students are not often counseled on higher education or career paths until they are juniors or seniors in high school. By that time, many choices they made in previous years cannot be undone.

The report recommends that schools begin career counseling much earlier - in middle school. Post-secondary education and career possibilities should be discussed with students throughout their high school years.

Students need to have access to coursework that increases post-secondary readiness, the report recommends. School systems also should “leverage external partnerships” to get additional resources and exert positive influences on students.

The report focuses on actions individual school districts can take to improve the prospects for graduates.

Tennessee Promise, the program that allows students to attend community and technical colleges tuition-free, cannot be considered a success unless more students actually complete their studies and earn credentials.

With more careers requiring post-secondary education, school systems need to provide better guidance to students - at the very least make sure they take required classes - so they are prepared for the future.




Feb. 14

The Commercial Appeal on new down payment program by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency:

Home ownership, with some exceptions, generally is an important weapon in stabilizing neighborhoods.

Memphis and other cities have seen the devastating double impact the foreclosure crisis and the 2008 Great Recession that left many neighborhoods populated by rental houses that are not as well maintained.

A new down payment program by The Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) hopes to reverse that trend by designing a program using $60 million in federal funds to increase homeownership. The program will protect homeowners already living in targeted neighborhoods from blight, falling property values and the risk of foreclosure.

The agency is offering 50 percent more money - $15,000 - with fewer strings attached to help low- and middle-income families buy a house in neighborhoods still struggling after the recession.

The loan - a second mortgage - will help pay down payment and closing costs. The loan comes with zero interest, no monthly payments and a much easier way for families to avoid having to repay any of it.

The program could be a tremendous benefit to neighborhoods like Frayser and Hickory Hill, which were hit especially hard by the foreclosure crisis.

It should also help older neighborhoods like Sherwood Forest and Parkway Village, which have seen an uptick in rental homes, along with the creeping blight and decrease in property values that frequently follow.

Homeownership is not a sure-fire, cure-all for neighborhood stability, but it helps. It can have drawbacks, such as trying to sell a home in a blighted area.

Although, the foreclosure crisis led some researchers to question long-held beliefs about the financial and social positives that spring from home ownership, many proponents, including THDA, still believe the positives outweigh the negatives.

The housing sector, for example, accounts for some 15 percent of the nation’s economic activity, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Homeownership generates property taxes that help cities fund municipal services, including public safety. It helps families build wealth.

It has been demonstrated that home ownership can be the foundation for stable and safer communities, where residents are more likely to vote in local elections and take an active role in community issues.

Those positives are what the THDA hopes to prime with its new down-payment initiative, which will target neighborhoods in 21 ZIP codes in Memphis, parts of West Tennessee and several other areas of the state.

THDA’s existing Great Choice Home Loan program has offered $10,000 in down-payment loans to homebuyers, who meet income restrictions, that are not repaid until the borrower sells or refinances the house. That loan is forgiven, however, if the borrower remains in the house for the full 30 years of the mortgage.

But with the $15,000 loan, 20 percent is forgiven each year after the sixth year. So if the borrower does not refinance, sell or move out of the home for 10 years, the entire $15,000 loan is forgiven.

If you think about it, these types of programs are economic development catalysts that are just as important to building community wealth and stability as tax incentives to companies.




Feb. 12

The Johnson City Press on the paramedic follow up law:

Before getting bogged down with the so-called “bathroom bill” and the annual plethora of gun bills (including one that would create a state sales tax holiday for gun and ammo purchases), we encourage the Tennessee General Assembly to take another look at an important public safety law that the state attorney general says it didn’t get quite right in 2014.

As Press Senior Reporter Becky Campbell reported last week, a law to allow emergency medical services to make non-emergency follow up house calls has been placed on hold after an AG’s opinion found it constitutionally suspect. State legislators amended a law three years ago that governs emergency medical service providers and the training required of first responders, but state Attorney General Herbert Slatery III said he never signed off on the revision.

Sue A. Sheldon, a senior counsel in the AG’s office, sent a letter to the state Department of Health in December saying “after review and consideration, we have determined that we cannot approve the chapter for legality. In our analysis, the statutory amendments contain insufficient standards or guidelines to enable the Emergency Medical Services Board and the courts to determine if the Board’s rules carry out the General Assembly’s intent.

“As such, the amendments constitute an unlawful delegation of power to an administrative agency and are constitutionally suspect.”

Now it’s up to the EMS Board to add the direct parameters that the AG says the original amendment lacked. This would allow community paramedics to engage in chronic disease management, preventative care or post-discharge follow up visits under medical direction.

So why is this law so important? Dan Wheeley, the director of Washington County/ Johnson City Emergency Services, told Campbell the goal is to allow paramedics to make non-emergency home visits to patients who are at higher risk for frequent emergency room visits.

This is a crucial program that not only monitors the health and well-being of these patients, but helps to reduce the rising health costs that result from such ER care. Wheeley said that on emergency medical calls, paramedics and EMTs are now allowed to collect information about patients’ medications and pass it along to medical staff at the hospital.

With the AG’s hold on the law, paramedics are not currently allowed to make a non-emergency visit with patients after their discharges to make sure they are following their doctor’s orders to prevent another trip to the ER.

We encourage the EMS Board and AG’s office to resolve this issue as soon as possible, and we ask that the General Assembly to do its part to see that this law works as it was intended.



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