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House Gives Final OK for Home Schoolers in Public School Athletics

The House gave final approval Monday night to legislation that will require all public schools to allow home school students to participate in their athletic events.
The House approved the measure 69-24 under sponsorship of Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville. It earlier had passed the Senate unanimously with Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, as sponsor and now goes to the governor for his expected signature.
Under current law, the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association has developed a policy for home-schooled children trying out for public school teams, but it is left for each school system to decide whether the allow them to participate. Campfield says that roughly half do so. The bill (SB240) requires all systems to open their athletic doors to home-schooled children.
The TSSAA, which is the governing body for school athletics, has opposed the bill. Home-school organizations have pushed the idea for several years.
“This is just making it an even playing ground for everyone who is involved in sports,” said Kane.
In debate, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said he was concerned with setting a precedent of giving “the benefits of public schools” to those who are not enrolled in those schools. He questioned whether virtual school students would be next and, if the Legislature enacts a voucher system, whether students with a state voucher attending a private school will be going to public schools for athletics.
Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, said the bill will erode local school board authority in favor of rules developed by TSSAA as body that “nobody elected.”
Kane said the parents of a home-school student “do pay taxes to the state and they do take a burden off the local school system” by not enrolling in it.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, argued in support of the measure. He said that youngsters from all sorts of backgrounds typically play together at younger ages on nonschool teams, “then suddenly when we get into high school we start segregating them” and “excluding children” because they are home-schooled.
“I think we’re here (as legislators) to help kids get benefits,” Dunn said. “If they can benefit, why would we deny them.”

Rep. Todd Stayed Rent-Free at Lobbyist Friend’s Home

State Rep. Curry Todd lived rent-free for an undisclosed amount of time in the expensive Nashville home of a prominent lobbyist in 2011, according to The Tennessean.
State ethics law forbids lobbyists from providing gifts, including housing, to lawmakers. The lobbyist, Chuck Welch, regularly worked on legislative issues that passed through the House State and Local Government Committee, which Todd, R-Collierville, chaired until he was removed in late 2011.
That came after Todd, who had sponsored legislation allowing guns in places that serve alcohol, was arrested on DUI and gun charges in October 2011. He was pulled over by Metro police less than a mile from the lobbyist’s Green Hills home.
Todd acknowledged last week that he has stayed at Welch’s house on a number of occasions, but wouldn’t clarify how long he lived at 2004 Lombardy Ave. in 2011. The home sold last year for $460,000, and rent for a four-bedroom house would have been in the range of $2,000 per month.
Welch, who did not respond to a request for comment, is the managing director for the Nashville office of the influential lobbying firm Farris, Mathews and Bobango. Until his arrest, Todd wielded significant power at the capitol in his role as chairman of the House committee.
Thanks to a generous carve-out in the state ethics law, the free housing may not constitute a violation because Todd and Welch are long-time friends.
Both Welch and the firm regularly lobbied on bills considered by Todd’s committee, including the ongoing issue of how utility poles are regulated across the state. The lobbying firm’s clients include the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association. Welch’s other lobbying clients include tw telecom, the American Legal Finance Association and the Tennessee Development District Association.
Todd said his close personal friendship with Welch “has not affected my independent judgment as a lawmaker.”
Todd declined to answer questions regarding his living arrangement with Welch. His prepared statement referred to the carve-out in the state ethics law that allows for gifts to be exchanged between lobbyists and lawmakers in cases of close personal friendships. Such gifts are not required to be reported annually.
…Todd said he met Welch over 45 years ago when he was a student at Treadwell High School, where Welch’s dad coached Todd’s basketball team.
“To this day, I consider Chuck Welch a true and close friend,” Todd said in his statement to the newspaper. “In addition, I have interacted with Mr. Welch on a professional basis related to my duties as a state representative multiple times. Like any lobbyist in Nashville, Mr. Welch visits with all legislators on a regular basis.”

State Lost $475,000 in Sale of Home to Steve Jobs’ Shell Company

The State of Tennessee took a bath when it sold the former University of Tennessee Health Science Center chancellor’s home to a shell company set up by Apple, Inc. founder and CEO Steve Jobs, losing $475,000 in the sale.
Further from Marc Perrusquia:
The loss had little to do with Jobs, however, and more to do with a decision to liquidate chancellor housing across the UT system – just as the biggest recession in 70 years was dawning.
“No corners were cut. No special deals were done,” said Chloe Shafer, real estate compliance director for the Tennessee Department of General Services, which sold the home at 36 Morningside Place on behalf of UT.
“I don’t know why they picked the worst time in the real estate market.”
More precisely, the decision came in 2007, shortly before the housing bubble burst. The UT Board of Trustees decided that providing homes to campus chancellors had become too expensive.
“There’s a better use for those dollars. That was the general feeling,” said Charles M. “Butch” Peccolo, UT chief financial officer.
In the process of trying to sell the chancellor’s home in Memphis, the market crashed. Yet the state stuck with the decision to liquidate the home even as bids failed to materialize and a series of appraisals showed its value plummeting, according to records maintained by the Department of General Services in Nashville.
The state bought the home for $1,325,000 in 2005 when Alice Owen, wife of then-chancellor Bill Owen, complained about a previous house that served as the chancellor’s residence.
After the Owens moved into 36 Morningside, they used more than $28,000 in tax dollars on improvements including $4,500 for an interior decorator consultation, $4,500 for a plasma TV, and $11,854 in shelving, lighting and rewiring. Much of the spending didn’t follow UT’s protocols, and Owen subsequently reimbursed the school.
An appraisal in October 2007 valued the home at $1.3 million. The home’s estimated value fell to $1.1 million in a subsequent appraisal in October 2008.
Over time, offers came in for hundreds of thousands less than the state wanted. Deals fell apart. And the market continued to plummet.
Then in early 2009 the state was contacted by George Riley, a Los Angeles attorney who represents Apple. In a span of eight days that March, Riley signed a sale contract with the state and helped set up a shell company, LCHG, LLC, that would protect Jobs’ privacy. On March 26, 2009, the firm closed the deal, buying the home for $850,000 “as is.”
“We always knew it was a law firm and they were buying the property for someone else. But we didn’t know who they were buying it for,” Shafer said.
Peccolo, the UT financial officer, said the decision to liquidate chancellors’ residences affected only the Memphis and Knoxville campuses. The home at UT-Martin was on campus and was converted to an alumni house, and the one at UT-Chattanooga is owned by a foundation, he said.
The state still is trying to sell the UT president’s home in Knoxville, an 11,000-square-foot home with a tennis court on 3.4 acres. Appraisals on the property have fallen from as much as $3.75 million in 2009 to $2.15 million this year.

GOP Lottery Scholarship Bill Favors Home School Students

A Republican plan to alter the lottery-funded Hope Scholarship program would make it easier for home-schooled students to qualify for the $4,000-per-year grant than students in traditional public and private schools, reports Richard Locker.
As originally filed, a controversial bill sponsored by Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, would toughen eligibility standards for both traditional and home-schooled students, but a Gresham amendment up for consideration by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday would relax the bill’s original provisions for home-schoolers.
Meanwhile, House and Senate Democratic leaders on Monday afternoon called on Gov. Bill Haslam to help them block the overall bill, saying that it would deny full Hope Scholarships to 5,257 students in the 2015-16 school year, when the bill would go into effect if passed.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission predicted about 6,600 would be affected in the second year, and that about 22 percent of students who would qualify under current standards would not be eligible if the change is approved.

Nursing Home Inspection Reports Now Available Online

With a prod from the federal government, the state Health Department has posted on its website thousands of pages of inspection reports on licensed nursing homes across the state, according to The Tennessean.
The posting marks the state’s effort to come into compliance with a little-known provision of the new federal health-care reform law, known formally as the Affordable Care Act. The law set a Jan. 1 date for states to come in to compliance.
Eventually, inspection reports for nursing homes, hospitals and other licensed facilities will be posted going back four years, said Health Department spokeswoman Shelley Walker.
While the inspection reports have been considered a matter of public record, obtaining copies of the reports previously required an individual request.
So far, one year of nursing home reports has been scanned in to the system.

Note: The reports are available HERE.

TN Virtual Academy Builds Enrollment, Controversy

About 2,100 students have signed up for virtual classes with the Union County school system, which has about 3,000 regular students, reports Chas Sisk.
As of last week, 872 students had been cleared to take classes, and 941 applicants were still being processed. An additional 341 had asked to transfer into the school from other districts.
The school, known as the Tennessee Virtual Academy, combines elements of home schooling with the requirements of a public school and the emerging field of distance learning. But only six weeks after it was launched, the school has plenty of critics.
The Tennessee Virtual Academy takes advantage of a state law that went into effect July 1 that allows districts to set up “virtual schools” open to any student in the state. Funding comes entirely from state tax dollars, at no cost to the districts or parents
….”Home schools have, in the past, not had their expenses paid by the state,” said Jerry Winters, director of government relations for the Tennessee Education Association, which represents public school teachers. “Should the state be paying a for-profit company to be educating kids at a kitchen table on a computer?”
Proponents, however, say virtual schools are less costly and supplement the options already available to parents, including private, magnet, charter and traditional public schools.
“It’s another option. It’s another choice,” said Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesman for K12 (which operates the virtual school).
…Funding for the school comes from the state, which allocates money to districts through its Basic Education Program. Union County will receive about $5,300 for each student who enrolls in the school.
The district’s relationship with K12 was set this summer in a no-bid contract, which is allowed under state law because the company is the only vendor that can operate a school that is entirely online, (Union County School Superintendent Wayne) Goforth said.
The contract lets the district keep 4 percent of the state’s funding as an administrative fee. The rest will be passed along to K12, which pays teacher salaries and provides materials, including computers.
K12, which is publicly traded, reported earnings of $21.5 million last year on revenue of$384.5 million. The company has been in operation since 2000 and has set up online schools like the Tennessee Virtual Academy in 29 states. K12 also offers other distance learning services.

Former UT President’s House Now More Affordable ($2.9M instead of $5M)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — University of Tennessee officials hope slashing the price of an historic mansion that was once home to several UT presidents will make it more palatable for purchase.
The price of the 11,400-square-foot Georgian-style mansion was cut from $5 million to $2.9 million in March, a year after it first went on the market in a cost-cutting move.
UT is spending $25,000 per year to maintain it and paying newly-hired president Joe DiPietro a $20,000 allowance in lieu of living there.
Real estate agent Jim Ford told The Knoxville News Sentinel he hopes the mansion is “going to sell to somebody wanting to buy a piece of history.”
Any bids on the property have to be approved by the UT Board of Trustees and the State Building Commission.

TennCare Fraud Lawsuit Involving Nursing Homes Resolved

News release from attorney general’s office:
Attorney General Bob Cooper and U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin today announced Tennessee will receive $112,000 as part of a civil TennCare fraud agreement with two Florida-based providers of mental health services to nursing home residents. In addition to the money recovered for the TennCare program, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District also recouped $108,000 on behalf of the Medicare program.
Named in the case were Paradigm Health Services, Inc. and Paradigm Health, LLC. The lawsuit and subsequent agreement stems from the fraudulent actions of a former Paradigm employee and Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Renee Vaughn.
State and federal officials allege that from 2003 through 2006, Vaughn billed TennCare for therapy sessions for Tennessee nursing home residents, but did not provide any meaningful service to the residents. Specifically, TennCare received multiple bills for 20 minute therapy sessions when in fact Vaughn had spent only moments with the patient.

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On Limiting Services to Those With Intellectual Disabilities

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee is limiting the amount of home nursing and personal assistance services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to reduce budget costs, which could push more people into community-based homes.
The Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities has been notifying families who use the at-home waiver programs of the new limits since March. The department has been looking to make the changes for two years and got approval in February from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.
Under the changes, one-on-one nursing services will be limited to 12 hours a day and personal assistance services limited to 215 hours a month. Previously, these services were provided on a case-by-case basis, but the programs were never intended to be used 24 hours, every day, said department spokeswoman Missy Marshall.

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TN GOP Education Reforms Include Home Schools, Too

Legislation revising state law on home schools will delete a current requirement that parent-teachers have a college degree in some cases and repeal the present penalty for failing to register a home-schooled child on time.
The Repulbican sponsors of SB1468, Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville and Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville, say the measure basically conforms the law – which has not had a major rewrite since 1985 – with “current practice” in home schooling.
Some Democrats voiced skepticism about repealing the degree and penalty provisions in committee hearings, but wound up supporting the bill after hearing explanations.
Current law requires a home school teacher to have a high school degree for teaching grades kindergarten through eight and a college bachelor’s degree for grades nine through 12. The bill allows teaching for all grades with a high school degree or a GED certificate.

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