Tennessee would receive $64.3 million in federal funds – to be matched with $6.4 million in state dollars – to provide pre-kindergarten classes to another 7,861 children under President Obama’s “Preschool for All” program, according to a White House estimate released Wednesday.
A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam says the governor will review the proposal, but is waiting for a Vanderbilt University study of pre-k effectiveness before making a final decision. The study, launched in 2009, will not complete its first stage until next year.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, a leading critic of pre-k programs in the state Legislature, said Wednesday the state should ignore the federal offer. He also voiced skepticism about the Vanderbilt study.
Tennessee now has a voluntary pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch because of low-family income. It will provide $85 million in funding for the current year to fund 935 pre-k classes enrolling about 18,000 students statewide, according to state Department of Education figures.
Obama’s proposal calls for providing $75 billion nationwide over a 10-year period to expand pre-k enrollment with new funding to come from an increase in federal cigarette taxes.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to bar public universities and colleges from implementing nondiscrimination policies for student groups is headed to the governor for his consideration.
The measure unanimously passed the Senate 30-0 on Wednesday. It was approved in the House 75-21 earlier this month.
The legislation does not include private institutions like Vanderbilt University — a provision that caused Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to veto last year’s version. The governor’s office says it’s OK with the current legislation.
Sponsors say the measure is aimed at preventing colleges from creating policies requiring student groups to open membership to all students and allow all members to seek leadership posts.
Christian groups have protested a similar policy at Vanderbilt, saying it forces them to allow nonbelievers and gay students to join. Officials say about 15 student groups have refused to comply with the policy, while 480 have accepted it.
A bill that would strip Vanderbilt University of its police powers is being dropped by its sponsor after an opinion from the Tennessee attorney general that it violates the U.S. constitution, according to Chas Sisk. State Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, announced Monday that he will withdraw House Bill 1150. The measure would have taken away the Vanderbilt University Police Department’s ability to make arrests and enforce criminal laws unless the school abandons its “all-comers” nondiscrimination policy.
“I want to be sure to stand up for our students’ religious rights without overstepping our state authority,” Pody said in a prepared statement announcing he would not pursue the bill. “At this point, I am still not satisfied with the ‘all-comers policy’ at some private institutions. However, it needs to be addressed in a different way.”
Vanderbilt has battled with several student groups over a requirement that all organizations it recognizes abide by the university’s nondiscrimination policy. Religious groups say the policy tramples on their freedom of worship.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s concerned over a new bill that echoes one he vetoed last year, reports WPLN. At issue is a campus anti-discrimination policy at Vanderbilt University. It means Christian groups can’t exclude gay members, drawing ire from some in the legislature. Last year lawmakers threatened to pull state money from Vanderbilt, over its so-called All Comers policy. It was the first time Haslam vetoed a bill. This year it’s back, now targeting the school’s police powers. Haslam says he’s still concerned. And he wants to know if this version would hold up in court.
“Remember last year we said we didn’t think it was constitutional. The attorney general later came back and said it wasn’t. We have the same concern here, if this is targeting in that way, that wouldn’t fit the constitution. So we’re trying to get a better read on that.”
Haslam stopped short of threatening another veto. His fellow Republicans in the legislature could override one with a simple majority.
— Note: A vote on the bill was postponed until next week to give the attorney general time to issue an opinion validity of the legislation.
News release from Administrative Office of the Courts:
Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court launched a new website this week to provide the public with valuable resources to help navigate the court system. The new site, JusticeForAllTN.com, is intended to assist people with civil legal issues who cannot afford legal representation.
The Justice for All website includes downloadable court forms, resources for representing yourself in court, information about common legal issues and an interactive map with resources for each of the state’s 95 counties. Thanks to a partnership with the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services and the Tennessee Bar Association, the site also gives visitors the ability to email a volunteer attorney with questions.
“We view the Justice For All website as a clearinghouse of information and legal resources for Tennesseans facing civil legal issues without the assistance of an attorney,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark. “We hope this site can make the legal system more accessible for all Tennesseans, regardless of income level.”
The Justice For All website also features a dedicated section for attorneys, business leaders and community members who wish to offer their assistance to the access to justice effort. This section of the site includes tools for attorneys to create their own pro bono clinic and links to various volunteer opportunities with legal aid organizations and bar associations across the state.
“Attorneys and community members are valuable partners in our efforts to improve access to justice in Tennessee,” Clark said. “We hope this site provides them with the tools and resources they need to continue the great work they are doing to offer pro bono assistance in their communities.”
Earlier this year, the Tennessee Court system also launched a redesigned version of its website, TNCourts.gov, to provide improved access to court information. The redesigned site features an interactive map of court contact information for each for the 95 counties in the state, an enhanced appellate court opinion search, a c alendar with appellate court dockets and a robust site-wide search. The site also allows visitors to sign up to receive appellate court opinions or news releases through an RSS feed or via email.
Visitors can also sign up to follow the Court system on Twitter to receive updates about court opinions and other court news throughout the state. Tennessee was of the first court systems in the country to start using Twitter more than two years ago. More than 2,000 people currently receive updates from the Court system via Twitter.
“We believe that using social media offers a great way to reach an expanded audience who may not otherwise seek information about the courts,” Clark said.
About the Access to Justice Initiative
In response to the growing civil legal needs gap in Tennessee, the Supreme Court made access to justice its number one strategic priority in 2008. The Court formally announced the Access to Justice Initiative in December 2008 and formed the Access to Justice Commission in April 2009. The Access to Justice Commission was tasked with creating a strategic plan, which was submitted to the Court on April 1, 2010, and unveiled to the public in June 2010. Since then, the Court hosted a pro bono summit in January 2011 and recently launched its new access to justice website.