Tennessee editorial roundup
By The Associated Press
Aug. 22, 2018
Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Commercial Appeal says Tennessee's housing woes are a campaign issue:
Can a society legitimately consider itself advanced when children are being raised in housing that costs so much they don't get adequate food or heath care?
A report by ThinkTennessee, a moderate public policy research organization, and the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency, ranks Tennessee 34th in the nation for the supply of adequate affordable housing.
The problem, as ThinkTennessee President Shanna Hughey points out, affects more than those families struggling with housing costs. As the percentage of one's income required for housing rises, it becomes more difficult to pay for expenses such as health care and food.
If, for example, a child is in class with kids who don't have housing stability, health care or food, she said, "it's hard for the classroom as a whole."
In Tennessee, the problem just keeps getting worse.
According to a recent report by National Public Radio, the shortage of affordable homes can be attributed to such factors as a reduction in the construction of single-family homes, caused by such factors as labor shortages, material costs, the lingering effects of the Great Recession, tougher zoning laws and not enough undeveloped land.
According to ThinkTennessee, 133,581 more low-cost units would have to be added to the state's inventory to put affordable roofs over the state's low-income residents. For every 100 extremely low-income residents, the report said, there are 45 available affordable rentals.
But even if those factors did not exist, too many Americans would be hard pressed to afford adequate housing.
The economic boom reflected in higher stock prices and a lower unemployment rate has, paradoxically, not produced a commensurate increase in wages.
So in addition to the traditional campaign issues such as education, health care and jobs, what do candidates during the current election campaign have to say about factors that are contributing to the shrinking inventory of affordable housing?
What is their opinion of Tennessee's reliance on the sales tax for essential state revenue and the General Assembly's reluctance to touch personal income, a policy that shifts much of the cost of essential state services from the wealthy to low- and middle-income earners.
What is their opinion of new Trump-era policies that have produced substantial federal tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations with little or no help for middle and low-income people?
Or the outrageous proposal by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to strip away deductions for childcare, medical expenses and the like for families that qualify for low-income housing?
What ideas do they have for solving the problem? Do they favor relaxing the rules for land banks — collections of vacant, abandoned or tax-delinquent properties held by local governments and non-profits that can be designated for low-cost housing?
With elections for state and federal offices just around the corner, it is not too late for candidates to speak out on affordable housing. It's one of the state's most basic public policy questions.
The Daily Times of Maryville says TNReady should not be an option for educators or for students:
Here's a conundrum. How many students wish they could pull the plug on an upcoming test? How many school system administrators in Tennessee are on board with that now?
There are students who relish the challenge. They paid attention in class, studied their assignments, did their homework. Nerds, geeks, techies, call them what you will, they focused on the test and looked past it.
No one is accusing the Metro Nashville Public Schools and the Shelby County Schools as being layered with nerds, certainly. But when it comes to the digital world Tennessee's students face, pulling back on TNReady is a retreat. Top administrators of the state's two largest school districts acknowledged as much in an Aug. 3 letter to Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.
"We respectfully ask the state to hit the pause button on TNReady in order to allow the next governor and commissioner to convene a statewide working group of educators to sort out the myriad challenges in a statewide collaborative conversation."
These administrators lack confidence in the Task Force on Student Testing and Assessment, which includes educators. Be specific. Sharpen your No. 2 pencils and point out the culprits. What's the objective here, fixing the glitches or starting from ground zero with new people of your choosing?
The Knox County Board of Education also recently voted to send a letter to the governor, the commissioner and the Legislature expressing a "lack of confidence" in the state's standardized testing. Could this attitude devalue testing as officials call for a do-over.
Not every administrator is arguing to hit the brakes on testing. Mike Winstead, director of Maryville City Schools, reached out to other directors after Nashville's and Shelby County's school systems urged a halt to TNReady. While acknowledging the problems going back to its implementation in 2016, Winstead contends those unacceptable hitches with the test process should not delay continuing on the path to strong and steady gains in achievement recognized nationally.
Alcoa City Schools Director Brian Bell signed the "Statement of Support" for TNReady assessments along with a eight other directors, including Sevier County, Loudon County and Lenior City. Blount County Schools Director Rob Britt said he preferred dealing directly with people and would not sign a public statement on any side of the issue unless directed to do so by the school board.
The idea that TNReady testing is some sort of option that can be dissed by administrators but be taken seriously by teachers and students is misguided. The thought that students who treat the tests as a joke won't impact their classmates is mistaken. The inference that statewide testing is a matter of choice disregards the law. Statewide testing is not optional. Not in Tennessee. Not in the United States.
Tennessee, long an educational backwater by national standards of achievement, has made too many advances to hit the pause button now. Ready or not, TNReady counts.
The Johnson City Press says President Donald Trump's attacks undermine the Constitution:
If you hear something often and loud enough, you just might come to believe it, even when it undermines the very core of your freedoms.
Since Donald Trump emerged as a viable candidate for the presidency more than three years ago, he has used America's free press as a whipping boy — a catapult to rally support from those who distrust any information that isn't music to their ears. Discrediting the news media allows him to paint himself as a victim, dismiss debate and disarm his critics. He wants to be immune from scrutiny by silencing or rendering inert the people's best sources for information.
He has hammered his disdain for the First Amendment into the public consciousness, and that's dangerous propaganda when it comes from the highest office in the land.
President Trump labels any media outlet that does not sing his praises as "fake news," and most repugnantly, he often describes the news media as "the enemy of the people." It's an unconscionable act that undermines the very fabric of a free society and has the potential to put lives in danger.
Do news media get everything right? Of course not, but to suggest that real reporters are purposefully issuing falsified information is simply an act of avoidance.
The president also would have Americans believe that reporters and editors are unpatriotic — that we actively seek to undermine the country's best interests. Nothing could be further from the truth. There's a reason the framers of our great nation included a free press in the Constitution. Information is power, and if that information does not flow freely, the people have no power to discern the truth and form their own opinions. The free exchange of ideas is a core tenet of this democratic republic.
We cannot imagine anything more patriotic than exercising and furthering that tenet, which is what we do in the free press at every level — from the major television networks right down to your local newspaper.
President Trump paints with a broad brush. In his arguments with the national press, he makes no distinction in his rhetoric, and that has a ripple effect all the way down to the Johnson City Press.
This newspaper and thousands like it are essential to our communities. We keep you abreast of the workings of your state and local governments, schools, economic development efforts, medical care concerns and law enforcement activities. That list just scratches the surface of why we matter to you.
Yet the president of the United States wants you to treat us as your enemy.
If President Trump has a legitimate concern with a particular story, reporter or medium, by all means he should address it. But he should do so specifically and fairly.
Some might argue that the president is simply exercising his own First Amendment right to free speech. That's certainly a fair assessment, but that does not excuse him from the responsibility to all aspects of the Constitution, which he swore to uphold on Jan. 20, 2017.
By compromising the freedom of the press outlined in that glorious document, President Trump is doing a grave disservice to democracy in diminishing your right to know.
That right is something we hold dear, and so should you.