5 things to watch for in governor's budget hearings

Today marks the beginning of the governor’s annual budget hearings, the administration’s annual dog and pony show for state agencies heads to highlight the happenings of their departments.

It’s also a time to explain what each agency would cut if forced to do so.

Over the full week, Gov. Bill Haslam will hear each department head explain agency spending plans and how they would cut 3.5 percent from their bottom lines, an exercise assigned each year by the governor’s office. However, revenues feeding the state’s $33.8 billion appear flush so far this year.

Here’s a short list of what to watch for as the budget hearings unfold this week:

  1. The Department of Corrections budget. After a wild year of headlines ranging from taxing schedules for prison guards to safety in correctional facilities, the presentation from the department’s commissioner, Derrick Schofield will be telling. The commissioner has insisted there is little to see in the department’s troubles, but whether he comes to the governor with a wish list of spending to make those problems go away -- and how it’s received by the governor -- will be worth watching.
  2. Judging the winds on education funding. With a lawsuit seeking more state money for education currently sitting in Davidson County Chancery Court, many are wondering whether and how the governor will boost funding for schools. Close to a dozen school boards across the state have either sued the state or are thinking about it to fight Haslam for more education dollars. Separately, the governor has struggled to keep his vow to increase teacher pay faster than any other state in the country. With the debut performance of first-year Commissioner Candice McQueen presenting the Department of Education’s proposed budget, the key will be whether the governor hints at what kind of moves he will make on either of these fronts.
  3. The gas tax pitch from the Department of Transportation. Commissioner John Schroer has made it no secret in recent years that he wants the state to figure out how to better fund a mound of backlogged transportation projects. After he and Haslam spent the better part of a year trying to convince legislators to take up that challenge in earnest, it will be key to see how much gas Schroer and the governor give to calling for a change in the gas tax. 
  4. How much money does Haslam have to play with? After a scare in 2014 that forced the state to renege on promises to increase pay for teachers and make budget cuts, the governor is unlikely to spend the state’s growing revenues wildly next year. But with state tax collections so far this fiscal year up $223 million more than expected -- posting the strongest first quarter growth since 2004 -- the governor will likely have more money to play with next year. Watch for what the governor says, or hints, about spending money on.
  5. The tenor of TennCare talks. Following his failed attempt to get state legislators to approve his plan to increase healthcare access to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans this year, the issue of health care is still beating. Healthcare and social services eats up about a third of the state budget each year, and although the legislature is uninterested in the governor’s so-called “Insure Tennessee” plan, the growing cost of healthcare is one the administration and legislature will have to wrap their arms around next year.
Nov 30, 2015 7:00 AM

VU School of Engineering lands $3.5M grant

The Vanderbilt University School of Engineering has landed a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

The grant will support VU researchers' efforts to create software that can control the Smart Grid — a decentralized power system that is more efficient, sustainable and reliable than America’s current electrical power delivery, according to a release.

Under the collaborative agreement, the Vanderbilt Institute for Software Integrated Systems is partnering with Professor Anurag Srivastava at Washington State University and Professor Srdjan Lukic at North Carolina State University, both nationally recognized experts in power systems.

“The system we have now is power coming from the power company, flowing down to your neighborhood and into your home. That’s it,” Gabor Karsai (pictured), associate director of Vanderbilt’s Institute for Software Integrated Systems and lead researcher on the grant, said in the release. “In the future, we will have local power generation — solar panels on your home, a small generator in your neighborhood — and you need this software infrastructure to control the whole system, the individual substations and delivery to customers.”

Read more here.

Nov 25, 2015 12:30 PM

Lipscomb Academy breaks ground on $5M indoor athletics facility

Fall 2016 completion eyed for center honoring McCadams
Nov 25, 2015 11:15 AM

Peabody lands $1.93M federal grant for ed program

Next Steps at Vanderbilt — Tennessee’s first postsecondary education program for students with intellectual disabilities — will expand significantly thanks to new federal funding.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education has awarded a five-year $1.93 million grant to the Vanderbilt University Peabody College of Education and Human Development to broaden the impact and reach of the program, the university announced in a release.

Vanderbilt was one of 25 colleges and universities nationally awarded funding as a Model Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID). Other Tennessee recipients of TPSID awards were Lipscomb University and the University of Memphis.

The Vanderbilt Kennedy University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (VKC UCEDD) established Next Steps in 2010. The two-year certificate program focuses on 18- to 26-year-old students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Next Steps has been successful in preparing its students for employment, promoting independence and self-advocacy, and providing an inclusive experience within Vanderbilt,” Erik Carter (pictured), professor of special education and VKC UCEDD faculty member, said in the release.

“This award makes it possible to take Next Steps to the next level, permitting us not only to expand in significant ways within Vanderbilt but also allowing us to promote growth of such programs in Tennessee,” added Carter, the principal investigator on the TPSID grant.

Read more here.

Nov 25, 2015 7:25 AM

New Peabody associate dean to focus on diversity, inclusion

The Vanderbilt University Peabody College of Education and Human Development has named Dr. Monique Robinson-Nichols associate dean for students and equity, diversity and inclusion.

The appointment is effective immediately, according to a release.

The newly created position is a promotion for Robinson-Nichols, who has served as the college’s assistant dean for student affairs since 2011. Prior to that, she was director of student life and diversity services at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin.

Robinson-Nichols (pictured) is a Peabody alumna, having earned a Master of Education degree in student personnel services in 1994 and a Doctor of Education degree in higher education administration in 2002. 

“We all have benefited from working with Dean Robinson-Nichols over the last few years as she cared for our students, especially those in distress,” Camilla P. Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Peabody, said in the release. “We all have gained much from her wisdom, courage and strategic thinking. And it is fitting that we ask her to expand her duties to assist us as Peabody, with other Vanderbilt colleges and schools, works to address issues of diversity and inclusivity. I am personally grateful to have her counsel and leadership.”

Read more here.

The announcement follows last week's announcement that VU has appointed veteran academician George C. Hill to serve as chief diversity officer and vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, also a newly created position. (Read more here.)


Nov 24, 2015 12:15 PM

'Money' ranks VU among most affordable for low-income students

Money magazine has ranked Vanderbilt University No. 10 among the nation's 40 most affordable colleges and universities for low-income students.

The list includes schools at which students from families earning less than $48,000 annually can typically graduate debt-free.

For its criteria, Money cited a new benchmark for affordability established by the Lumina Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving higher education access and success. The foundation has proposed that a college be describe as “affordable” if the cost of earning a bachelor’s degree is no more than the total of 10 percent of a family’s discretionary income over a 10-year span, or the equivalent of the amount a student can earn working 10 hours per week during the school year.

Read more here at vanderbilt.edu.

Nov 24, 2015 6:45 AM

Lipcomb, Vanderbilt land federal grants

Lipscomb and Vanderbilt universities have simultaneously announced work fueled by federal monies.

HIV diagnoses are disproportionately high among young African American males, especially those who engage in sexual activity with men, according to a recently completed $1.5 million VU study supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

Unrelatedly, LU's educational program for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities has received a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education through its Model Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) initiative. Of note, Vanderbilt secured a TPSID grant, too.

The Vanderbilt study involved VU and First Response Center, a nonprofit HIV/AIDS prevention and care organization run by Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in North Nashville.

The study, “Black Young Men Building Capacity,” was developed by Sandra L. Barnes, a professor in the Department of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development.

“Interventions and services are out there, but the numbers are still rising,” Barnes, lead investigator of the study, said in a release. “That suggests there is a disconnect somewhere. How do you establish trust and reach a demographic that has a history of being marginalized?”

During the next five years, Barnes (pictured) said the aim is to reach 5,000 members of the target population of black males who have sex with males, known as MSM. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MSM account for 75 percent of new HIV diagnoses among 18- to 24-year-old black men.

“The overall goal of BYMBC is to educate, equip and empower members of the target population to access prevention and testing services,” Barnes said.

Read more here.

Lipscomb and VU were two of only 25 universities in the nation to receive the aforementioned TPSID grant. The grant will help support and expand services in the LU College of Education’s IDEAL (Igniting the Dream of Education and Access at Lipscomb) program.

“This grant is significant to our IDEAL program in several ways,” Deborah Boyd,  LU College of Education dean, said in a release. “Being one of only a few universities in the country to receive a TPSID grant is a strong indication that the program we launched just last year is already being recognized for its quality and for the positive impact it is having having on campus and all students, in addition to the students in the program, who otherwise might not have an opportunity to have a college experience. The size of the grant is also very significant in that it will allow us to add resources, to serve students and their families better, to expand our programming.”

IDEAL is a two-year certificate program, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, designed to encourage and support students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to experience college as their peers do. Launched in January 2014, the IDEAL program includes academic and skill-building classes, exercise sessions, daily internships, leisure time and a daily study period.

The initial cohort included three students. This fall, 19 students comprising three cohorts are enrolled in the program. (Read more here.)


(Photo courtesy of VU/John Russell)

Nov 20, 2015 7:15 AM

Vanderbilt names first chief diversity officer

Veteran academician has background in biomedical research
Nov 19, 2015 10:41 AM

Trevecca to add School of Music and Worship Arts

The trustees of Trevecca Nazarene University approved a new School of Music and Worship Arts, effective Jan. 1, 2016. The traditional music programs, the National Praise and Worship Institute and the Center for Worship Arts will move under a single umbrella. The music education program will remain in the TNU College of Education, and the music business program will stay in the TNU College of Business.

A release:

Trevecca Nazarene University is the place to study music in Music City. Trevecca’s Board of Trustees underlined their commitment to musicians and the music industry when they voted unanimously on November 6 to form the School of Music and Worship Arts.

Effective January 1, 2016, the action moves all of Trevecca’s music programs under one umbrella, giving students a single point of entry and a large selection of majors and minors to choose from.

University President Dan Boone describes the strategic move as Trevecca’s “next great step forward.”

“Nashville is globally recognized as Music City, U.S.A., and our programs reflect many ways that a student can prepare for a career in music,” Boone said. “By creating the Trevecca School of Music and Worship Arts, we are able to provide a single entity that can explain the different programs and how they interact.”

The new school will be comprised of Trevecca’s existing Department of Music, the Center for Worship Arts and the National Praise and Worship Institute. Each program will retain its unique approach, but the realignment will allow for greater collaboration.

“The unification of our programs brings together a great group of music educators and musicians who can more easily collaborate with each other across our various majors and program concentrations,” said Dr. Steve Pusey, University provost. “This will allow the individuals units to maintain their distinctiveness while drawing upon the unique abilities and strengths that the faculty as a whole brings to the school.”

Dr. David Diehl, who has been named the first dean of the School of Music and Worship Arts, says the new school will provide Trevecca’s music programs with greater reach and impact.

“By combining our resources we can have a larger footprint in our community—educational, musical, local—which should help raise the awareness of our programs and impact our ability to recruit and become a leading voice regarding music and worship arts in our community, city and [the] church,” said Diehl, who has served as the chair of Trevecca’s music department for 10 years.

Diehl says the realignment will create more opportunities for students in each program to interact. The new structure will also expose students to wider range of ideas and teaching styles, while also giving rise to more efficiency in recruitment.

The School of Music and Worship Arts will become Trevecca’s fifth school, joining the School of Arts and Sciences, Skinner School of Business and Technology, School of Education and the Millard Reed School of Theology and Christian Ministry. Trevecca's music business program will remain housed in the business school, while music education programs will remain in the School of Education.

Nov 18, 2015 7:10 AM

Preds to launch hockey-based STEM program

The Nashville Predators will launch the Future Goals program tomorrow at Franklin's Liberty Elementary, part of a league-wide initiative that uses hockey as a vehicle to team science, technology, engineering and math skills.

From a release:

The Future Goals educational experience:

● Engages students in the real-world application of key science, technology, engineering and math topics by using the fast-paced, exciting game of hockey as a learning vehicle.

● Curriculum aligns with standards established by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

● Introduction to a variety of science, technology, engineering and math careers, including discussion on life and academic paths that may lead to certain opportunities.

● Students develop the technical foundation, vocabulary and skills needed to succeed in the 21st century workforce.

Nov 17, 2015 12:02 PM