February 23, 2012

Bill gives abused and neglected youth in state custody more opportunities to succeed

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation this week to help ensure that abused and neglected youth in state custody get the chance they deserve to become healthy and productive adults. Senate Bill 2199, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), would bridge the gap for those in foster care from the teenage years to adulthood by assuring the Transitioning Youth Act continues to remain in effect for years to come. This critical program, which was set to expire, provides assistance to youth in foster care between the ages of 18-21 – after they age out of the foster care system.

“Young people who age out of foster care face significant challenges transitioning to adulthood on their own,” said Senator Overbey. “Most importantly, this bill would give youth in foster care a better opportunity to live successful and fulfilling lives by continuing this program until age 21. In addition, it has a positive secondary effect on our bottom line in terms of societal costs, including the impact it has on early pregnancy, earnings potential and incarceration costs.”

The vote to approve the proposal came after lawmakers heard compelling testimony from country music star Jimmy Wayne about his experience in the foster care system and his efforts to help these often forgotten youth. Radio talk show host Michael Reagan, adopted son of the late President Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, also expressed his support of the bill in a letter asking Tennessee lawmakers to approve the legislation.

Wayne told Committee members that he was homeless at age 13 after being abandoned by his mother. After moving in and out of the foster care system, he became homeless again at age 16 until he was taken into the home of an elderly couple where he lived for the next six years. Wayne said that couple’s support allowed him to go back to high school, graduate from college and pursue his dream of being in the music industry.

In 2009, Wayne remembered a promise he made as a teenager to “give back” if he became successful. Since that time he has worked to raise awareness about teenage foster children and the challenges they face, including founding the “Meet Me Halfway” project. In 2010, Wayne walked 1,660 miles from Nashville to Phoenix to advocate on behalf of foster youth who are in danger of becoming homeless upon being released from state custody at age 18 without vital resources.

Similarly, Reagan wrote lawmakers saying, “The majority of children who age out of foster care are not equipped to live as productive adults.” He said statistics show that these youth are less likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and become employed or to earn a living wage. They are also more likely to experience violence, homelessness, substance abuse, unwanted pregnancies and mental illness. “They deserve the chance to be properly prepared for adulthood,” he said.

The bill is part of Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative package, and funds to continue the program are included in the proposed 2012-2013 budget.

Governor Haslam completes “Top to Bottom Review” of state government departments

Governor Bill Haslam released his administration’s “Top to Bottom Review” of state government departments this week. Haslam instructed the commissioners of the state’s 22 departments to analyze operational and organizational efficiency thoroughly to see if they are functioning effectively and accomplishing their core mission.

“State government’s role is to provide services that taxpayers can’t get on their own,” Haslam said in a letter delivered to legislators. “I believe the Governor’s job is to make sure we’re providing those services in the most customer-friendly way and at the lowest cost.”

Each department listed recommendations in the report aimed at improving the use of public resources. Some of the recommendations are already included in the Governor’s legislative package, while many other efficiencies can be implemented internally.

“We believe this process will result in meaningful change to the benefit of Tennessee taxpayers. While this Top to Bottom Review process is complete, this administration will continue on an ongoing basis to evaluate and improve efficiency and effectiveness in the way we deliver services,” Haslam concluded.

The report can be found at: http://forward.tn.gov/toptobottom/index.shtml.

Tennessee teachers and members of the public invited to attend & participate
in public forums on new evaluation process

Tennessee teachers and members of the public have been invited to attend and participate in eight regional roundtables on the state’s new teacher evaluation process. Earlier this year, the State Collaboration on Reforming Education (SCORE) was asked by Governor Bill Haslam to lead an independent statewide listening and feedback process on the evaluation system. SCORE will gather feedback on challenges and concerns, identify what is working well, and report back to the state Board of Education and Department of Education on June 1.

Reforming the state’s teacher evaluation system was a critical part of Tennessee’s receiving $500 million in federal Race to the Top funds which was based on four pillars: enhancing standards and assessments, improving the collection and use of data, increasing teacher effectiveness, and turning around struggling schools. The new teacher evaluation process was designed by teachers and other education practitioners after passage of the law. The law was passed during the administration of former Governor Phil Bredesen and approved by the Legislature in January 2010, with the evaluation system set to go into effect during the current school year.

State Civil Service System Needs Major Reform, Comptroller Report Suggests

A report released by the Comptroller’s Division of State Audit this week suggests that Tennessee’s civil service system is inefficient, unfair and outdated. The audit said the system, developed in 1939, centralizes the process for people who wish to apply for civil service jobs within the state’s Department of Human Resources. The department maintains lists, or registers, of potential candidates for job openings.

The report said the system is fundamentally flawed. For example, it said the human resources department ranks potential candidates and recommends them to whichever state departments or agencies have job openings. It says this is inefficient because in many cases the top-ranked candidates are not interested in or may not actually be qualified for the open positions. In addition, it said the ranking process itself lacks transparency, so neither the departments and neither agencies nor candidates know exactly how the process is conducted.

The report says registers are often top heavy with current state employees to the exclusion of people who wish to enter state service, as job openings are not always posted if human resources officials believe they have suitable pools of applicants for those positions. The system allows employees with more seniority to “bump” less senior employees out of jobs, which can set off chain reactions that displace numerous employees.

The Comptroller’s report recommends that the current system be replaced with a decentralized system that would give departments and agencies the ability to screen and hire applicants directly.

Issues in Brief

Electronic Fraud Hotline – Senator Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) guided her first bill through the State Senate this week with approval of legislation calling for an electronic hotline for citizens to email any reports of fraud or abuse in state government spending. Senate Bill 2259 adds electronic notifications to the current telephone hotline authorized under the Advocacy for Honest and Appropriate Government Spending Act.

State Road Projects – Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer told Senate Transportation Committee members this week that his Department has 400 projects under construction, 800 in some form of development, and 550 projects managed at the local level, for a total of 1750 active projects. Schroer came before the Committee to present the budget for the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT). Schroer said that since last year TDOT has completed major projects in all regions of the state, including State Route 131 in Knoxville from I-40 to the Pellissippi Parkway, I-40 at White Bridge Road in Davidson County, a portion of U.S. 64 in Hardin County and opened the Chattanooga Transportation Management Center.

7th and 8th Grade Advanced Math and Science Teachers / Loan Forgiveness – The full Senate approved and sent to the Governor legislation which would allow 7th and 8th grade teachers to apply for up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness funds available for secondary school teachers that teach advanced high school courses in math and science. Senate Bill 2579 , sponsored by Senator Steve Southerland (R-Morristown) changes the definition of elementary school so 7th and 8th grades can be classified as secondary schools in this case and these teachers can apply for loan forgiveness.

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