Jurors are scheduled to take up deliberations Wednesday in the Washington County civil rights intimidation case involving a former East Tennessee State University student who wore a gorilla mask to a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

Lawyers for both the prosecution and the defendant, 21-year-old Tristan Rettke, finished up closing arguments Tuesday following a day of testimony from witnesses who as ETSU students in 2016 attended the BLM campus protest Rettke stands accused of illegally interrupting.

The students who testified for the prosecution all claimed they were shocked and deeply offended when Rettke arrived on the scene wearing the gorilla mask and dangling bananas from a piece of rope in an obvious attempt to mock them.

The students, all of them black and most of them involved in African American-focused activist groups, each said they took the rope to symbolize a noose, which left them fearing for their safety. One student said the rope brought to mind slavery and lynching. Another said she regarded the rope as “a weapon.”

The lead prosecutor for the case, Assistant District Attorney Erin McArdle, later argued that Rettke’s “sole purpose was to provoke the other students” by displaying “symbols of hate and oppression.”

Rettke is charged with two felony counts of civil rights intimidation and three lesser charges, including disorderly conduct and disrupting a meeting.

Jurors also heard from the Rettke himself for the first time, albeit indirectly.

Rettke didn’t take the stand Tuesday, but prosecutors played an audio recording of the then 18-year-old’s interview with a campus police officer after he was taken away from the scene of the BLM protest.

In it, Rettke offered a glimpse into his thinking prior to the event.

He described his conduct as “a practical joke of sorts.” Rettke said he was trying to get a reaction from the students for his personal amusement.

“To be honest, I didn’t have any specific thought process toward what the gorilla mask meant — it was more about what other people would think,” Rettke told the officer. He said later likened his behavior to “an experiment to see their reactions.”

Neither Rettke nor the officer made any mention of a “noose” during the interview. Rettke said he was using the bananas to “bait” the BLM protesters.

When pressed about the meaning of the gorilla mask, Rettke said, “With recent action of Black Lives Matter, it resembles ape-like behavior — rioting, looting, blocking traffic, destroying property.”

In a written statement to police, Rettke indicated confusion as to why he was in trouble given that he’d heard about or observed street preachers confronting homosexual students in the free speech zone with inflammatory religious rhetoric.

Rettke’s defense attorney, Johnson City lawyer Patrick Denton, later argued that Rettke’s statements to police and also an earlier post he’d made on an internet message board expressing criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement indicated a political message was part of his actions. For those reasons alone, Rettke’s behavior should be viewed as an admittedly offensive but nevertheless First Amendment-protected form of counter-protest, said Denton.

Denton noted in his closing argument that the jury instructions already established for the case declare that the defendant cannot be convicted “for the manner of expression or the actual content of his opinions.”

“What else is there? What else are they asking you to find him guilty based on?” Denton said to the jury. “He didn’t touch anybody. He didn’t threaten anybody. Those two things encompass it all, and that is why I have to say he’s not guilty of any of these crimes — it’s not even close.”

The jury is scheduled to receive final instructions from the judge and go into deliberations Wednesday morning.

The trial of a young man accused of violating the civil rights of African American students three years ago at East Tennessee State University got underway on Monday.

Jurors listened to opening remarks from attorneys in a case that will have them decide whether confrontational actions by a lone counter-protester at a campus Black Lives Matter demonstration in 2016 crossed a constitutional line from protected free speech into the realm of unlawful harassment.

Prosecutors in Washington County say former ETSU student Tristan Rettke sought to intimidate his schoolmates when he showed up at a designated campus free-speech plaza in September 2106 wearing a gorilla mask and handing out bananas in the midst of a Black Lives Matter demonstration. Rettke, an 18-year-old first-semester freshmen at the time, was barefooted and wearing overalls during the incident, in which he also flaunted a burlap sack depicting a Confederate flag and cannabis leaf as well as a sign reading “Lives Matter.”

In addition, he tied bananas to a strand of rope and dangled them in front of the BLM protesters. Witnesses for the prosecution claim Rettke’s purpose was to insinuate a lynching threat, although the defense denies that.

Led by Assistant District Attorney General Erin McArdle, the state claims Rettke’s behavior constituted felony-level harassment and bullying. Rettke was attempting to coerce the protestors into refraining from exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, McArdle said.

Rettke, who withdrew from the university soon after the incident, is charged with two counts of civil rights intimidation, as well as two counts of disorderly conduct and one count of disrupting a meeting.

McArdle said “obvious racial overtones” permeate the case, especially considering the “history of oppression” blacks have encountered in America. She suggested Rettke’s actions with the rope, which he’d tied into “some kind of noose-looking thing,” were comparable to one person making a throat-slitting gesture toward another, or someone presenting a Jew with an image of a swastika. McArdle suggested that, under certain circumstances, reasonable people might conclude such communications “could be intimidating.”

Rettke’s attorney, Patrick Denton of Johnson City, argues that his client’s actions — even though offensive, confrontational and admittedly ill-conceived — were nevertheless constitutionally protected to the same degree as the right of the BLM demonstrators to publicly present their message.

Rettke’s conduct should be thought of as an example of heckling or a counter protest, he said.

Denton compared Rettke’s actions to publicly burning an American flag, or when religious zealots protest at military funerals. Both may be deeply offensive to many, but both are nonetheless protected expressions of free speech, he said.

“We don’t need the First Amendment to protect speech that is popular,” said Denton.

He added, “It is not a crime to make people angry.”

Denton also noted that, considering the controversial nature of the Black Lives Matter movement, the protesting students “should have considered the possibility of competing or even demeaning” responses to their demonstration.

He also called into question the sincerity of prosecution witnesses who claim they were legitimately intimidated by Rettke’s behavior, pointing out that Rettke was outnumbered significantly by BLM protesters and sympathetic bystanders at the scene.

A lot of Monday was spent with attorneys for both sides, as well as Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice, quizzing prospective jurors about their beliefs on the nature and breadth of freedom of speech in America. Also discussed was prospective jurors’ willingness and ability to set aside preconceived notions they may have drawn about the case, which has garnered significant local media attention.

The case is somewhat unusual in that the jury is being asked to weigh and consider complex and difficult free-speech matters typically left to judges, appellate justices and legal scholars.

Judge Rice acknowledged that free-speech cases can be complicated. “There are entire law school classes” dedicated to analyzing and examining the nuances of such difficult constitutional matters, she said.

She noted that many First Amendment issues “have been the subject of litigation all the way through the courts to the United States Supreme Court.” However, Rice promised to give the jury precise instructions as to how they should weigh the evidence against the specifics of law.

“There is some legal analysis that is required by you as jurors.” said Rice. “But you will be given everything that you are needed to apply the law to the evidence of this case.”

Another curious aspect of the case is that the key piece of evidence — a 9-minute video shot by a former ETSU student named Thomas Grant Madison — is claimed by both the prosecution and the defense to prove their respective claims in the case.

Jurors were in fact shown the video twice Monday afternoon — once during the opening argument by Rettke’s lawyer, and then again a short while later after Madison was called as the prosecution’s first witness. During each screening, the lawyers allowed the video to play without interruption or commentary.

Both sides concur that the video provides an accurate reflection of the events and circumstances of what happened that day in the designated campus free-speech zone outside ETSU’s university library.

Denton told jurors that the video clearly demonstrates that the black students in the vicinity of the BLM protest were in no way intimidated by Rettke’s actions. They may have been angry or outraged — or perhaps even to some degree amused, judging by their laughter recorded in the video — but they were not sincerely frightened, he said.

Madison testified that he was made “very angry” by Rettke’s “antics,” and that his initial reaction was to punch Rettke when the latter offered him a banana.

Madison testified that, in his mind, Rettke’s use of a the rope “was probably the worst part about it.”

“The gorilla thing is silly, the (Confederate flag emblazoned sack) is silly, but the rope was the most threatening thing towards me,” Madison said. He added that when Rettke tied up the bananas and dangled them before the protesters, the impression was that it “signified hanging.”

Madison can be heard laughing loudly throughout the video, and at one point proclaimed, “This is hilarious.” However, he testified after the video was played Monday that Rettke’s behavior was so offensive it was the kind of situation when one has to “laugh to keep from crying” — that feigned amusement was basically a defensive attempt to “make light of the situation.”

“The laughter that you here in the video is not laughing at Tristan, it is laughing to hold something darker inside.,” he said.

More prosecution witnesses will take the stand Tuesday.

Press Release from Middle Tennessee State University, June 19, 2019:

Link: https://mtsunews.com/board-of-trustees-june2019-recap/

(Story by By Andrew Oppmann)

Middle Tennessee State University is the No. 1 choice of Tennessee Promise students who have transferred from one of the state’s community colleges to a four-year institution.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee made the announcement at the Tuesday, June 18, Board of Trustees meeting held inside the Miller Education Center on Bell Street.

McPhee shared with trustees recent data from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission that showed MTSU in the top spot for Tennessee Promise students seeking to earn a four-year degree.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, left, reports at the Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday, June 18, that MTSU was the top choice for Tennessee Promise transfers from community colleges who wanted to continue their educations at a four-year university. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

“More Tennessee Promise students have transferred to MTSU than any other state university,” McPhee said. “This is consistent with our standing as the No. 1 choice for transfer students overall.”

The data shows MTSU received 21.5 percent, or 542, of the 2,528 students who took advantage of the free community college tuition through the Tennessee Promise program to seek an associate degree.

MTSU’s partnership with Motlow State Community College was also the most productive relationship between a two-year college and a four-year institution, McPhee said.

Motlow sent MTSU 255 of its students, THEC’s 2019 report on the Tennessee Promise shows.

In other business, trustees approved a slight increase in tuition and fees this fall.

Undergraduate tuition and mandatory fees will rise 2.37 percent, still below the 2.5 percent cap set by the THEC. For a student taking 15 hours, combined tuition for the Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 semester will go from $9,206 to $9,424.

Joey Jacobs, chair of the Finance and Personnel Committee, said trustees “have given careful consideration to the impact that any increase will have on student affordability.”

He also said the committee “reviewed the tuition rates of other Tennessee public institutions, as well as peer institutions and found that even with the proposed fee increase, MTSU ranked as very affordable in comparison.”

MTSU has the lowest undergraduate tuition of the state’s three largest universities, behind the rates at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and the University of Memphis.

The measure passed Tuesday also raised graduate college tuition by 3 percent and set a special tuition rate for certain corporate relationships.

In other business, trustees approved a new academic program, Bachelor of Science in Public Writing and Rhetoric, a four-year interdisciplinary degree housed in the College of Liberal Arts.

Pam Wright, chair of the Academic Affairs, Student Life and Athletics committee, said the degree will be the first of its kind in the region.

“Similar to degrees offered at many institutions, the degree will provide students with in-depth training in writing and rhetorical studies,” she said.

Wright said the degree will prepare students “for a range of writing-focused careers that involve analysis, creation, and editing of texts as well as for graduate study.

Trustees also learned about the creation of the Free Speech Center, a First Amendment advocacy hub that will be led by Ken Paulson, who is stepping down as dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment this summer.

“The center’s primary mission is one of public service, educating students and the public about the value of the First Amendment to a free society,” Wright said.

The center will be integrated into campus life and academics, fulfilling the university’s stated mission to educate students so that they “understand the proper role of free expression and civic engagement in our society,” she said.

Trustees also:

  • Unanimously approved the recommendation of McPhee and University Provost Mark Byrnes that 39 faculty be granted tenure and 75 faculty be promoted, effective Aug. 1.
  • Endorsed asking for state support in the next budget cycle for a new Applied Engineering Building for its Mechatronics Engineering and Engineering Technology programs;
  • Welcomed Mary Martin, a professor of mathematics, to a two-year term as faculty trustee; she replaces outgoing faculty trustee Tony Johnston, agriculture professor and fermentation science program director.
  • For agenda details, to view the meetings livestreamed or for other information, go to www.mtsu.edu/boardoftrustees.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, June 3, 2019:

Most Tennessee Promise Saturday events are on June 22

NASHVILLE – Tennessee State Parks are offering volunteer events at 54 of the 56 state parks for Tennessee Promise scholars to fulfill their community service hours. Most of the events are on Saturday, June 22.

“This is an excellent opportunity for Tennessee Promise students to meet their requirements and be a part of the outdoors at the same time,” said Jim Bryson, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. “Tennessee Promise is giving students a great chance to further their education, and we’re glad Tennessee State Parks can be a part of that.”

Tennessee Promise Saturday includes a variety of work projects at the parks, including landscaping, invasive plant removal, litter pickup, trail maintenance, and more. Participants should wear appropriate clothing for the work and bring items such as water, snacks and sunscreen. Students should check with each individual park on the activities planned and details on what they will need to do and bring.

Students are encouraged to find details about service hours at state parks by visiting https://tnstateparks.com/about/special-events/tn-promise-saturday.

Tennessee Promise provides students the chance to attend tuition-free any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology or other eligible institutions offering an associate degree program. One of the requirements to maintain eligibility is to complete eight hours of community service. For the class of 2019, the deadline to complete the community service is July 1. The parks also accept help on Tennessee Promise Saturday from any volunteers who wish to participate.

The two parks not part of Tennessee Promise Saturday are Big Cypress Tree State Park and Dunbar Cave State Park, but students near Dunbar Cave can go to nearby Port Royal State Park for its event.

Press Release from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, May 8, 2019:

Link: https://www.dgliteracy.org/about-us/

Goodlettsville, Tenn. – May 8, 2019—The Dollar General Literacy Foundation awarded more than $1.8 million in literacy grants to middle Tennessee schools, nonprofits and literacy organizations today at the Nashville Public Library.

“In keeping with Dollar General’s mission of Serving Others, we are excited to provide grants to support literacy and education initiatives in the communities we proudly call home,” said Todd Vasos, Dollar General’s CEO and Dollar General Literacy Foundation board member. “Each year, funds provided by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation make a real difference by providing the tools that students, adults and families need to pursue new opportunities and accomplish their goals. We believe these programs empower the communities we serve, and we are honored to play a role in their success.”

According to Metro Nashville Public Schools, two out of three Nashville third graders currently read below grade level, and the Nashville Adult Literacy Council estimates that one in eight Nashville adults lack basic literacy skills. Recipients of today’s grant announcements plan to use Dollar General Literacy Foundation funds to help adults learn to read, prepare for the high school equivalency exam, promote childhood summer reading or learn English.

A complete list of grant recipients may be found online at www.dgliteracy.org.

“Education has the ability to level the playing fields in life,” said Denine Torr, Dollar General’s senior director of community initiatives. “Through these grants, we are helping expand access to educational programs and enhancing literacy instruction for adults, families and youth. We are excited to invest in programs across our hometown communities that are uplifting and empowering others to have a brighter future.”

In addition to the literacy grants announced today, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation is also currently accepting applications for youth literacy grants through Thursday, May 16, 2019 at 10 p.m. CT. Youth literacy grants provide funding to schools, public libraries and nonprofit organizations to help students below grade level or experience difficulty reading by providing funding to implement new or expanding literacy programs, purchase new technology or equipment or purchase books, materials or software to enhance literacy programs. Applications are available online at www.dgliteracy.org.

Dollar General’s commitment to literacy and education is rooted through the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and the company’s co-founder, J.L. Turner. Turner had a third-grade education and was functionally illiterate after dropping out of school to support his family. His grandson and former CEO, Cal Turner, Jr., founded the Dollar General Literacy Foundation in 1993. Since its inception more than 25 years ago, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has awarded more than $168 million in grants to nonprofit organizations, helping more than 10 million individuals take their first steps toward literacy or continued education.

For additional information, photographs or items to supplement a story, please visit the Dollar General Newsroom or contact the Media Relations Department at 1-877-944-DGPR (3477) or via email at dgpr@dollargeneral.com.

About the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation is proud to support initiatives that help others improve their lives through literacy and education. Since 1993, the Foundation has awarded more than $168 million in grants to nonprofit organizations, helping more than 10 million individuals take their first steps toward literacy, a general education diploma or English proficiency. To learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, visit www.dgliteracy.org.

About Dollar General Corporation

Dollar General Corporation has been delivering value to shoppers for nearly 80 years through its mission of Serving Others. Dollar General helps shoppers Save time. Save money. Every day!® by offering products that are frequently used and replenished, such as food, snacks, health and beauty aids, cleaning supplies, basic apparel, housewares and seasonal items at everyday low prices in convenient neighborhood locations. Dollar General operated 15,472 stores in 44 states as of March 1, 2019. In addition to high-quality private brands, Dollar General sells products from America’s most-trusted manufacturers such as Clorox, Energizer, Procter & Gamble, Hanes, Coca-Cola, Mars, Unilever, Nestle, Kimberly-Clark, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and PepsiCo. Learn more about Dollar General at www.dollargeneral.com.

Press Release from the Office of Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, May 2, 2019:

Gov. Bill Lee Lauds General Assembly in Working Together to Pass Conservative Reforms

$38.5 Billion Budget Passes Unanimously

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee marked the close of the 2019 legislative session, a session which included the unanimous passage of his budget as well as the passage of his full agenda as outlined during his State of the State address in March.

“In March, I presented our budget and a series of priorities which I believe will be foundational to making Tennessee a leader in the nation,” said Lee. “Working with the General Assembly leadership and members, we passed reforms that will continue to build on the momentum our state has seen in recent years.”

Gov. Lee’s slate of priorities included 16 legislative initiatives to work towards strengthening public education and school choice, enhancing workforce development, addressing criminal justice reform and public safety, promoting good government and developing solutions for rural Tennessee.

The passage of the fiscal year 2020 budget marked the first unanimous budget approval from the General Assembly since 2011. Notably, this budget includes a historic deposit to the state’s Rainy Day Fund that will elevate reserves to over $1.1 billion. Tax cuts included a full repeal of the Gym Tax, the elimination of sales and use tax on agricultural trailers and a reduction to the professional privilege tax.

“I commend the General Assembly for their work this session and I look forward to joining members in their districts in the coming months to highlight all that was accomplished this session” said Lee. “I am especially pleased with the outcome of the budget and our joint commitment to making sure Tennessee is well-managed and fiscally sound.”

Highlights from Gov. Lee’s legislative agenda include the following:

Strengthening Public Education and Expanding School Choice:

  • Creating the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) to expand access to vocational and technical training to students
  • Establishing an education savings account program to expand school choice for low-income students in Davidson and Shelby counties
  • Creating the Future Workforce Initiative to prepare students for the jobs of the future in science, technology, engineering and math
  • A $71 million investment in pay raises for teachers across Tennessee and investment in professional development programming
  • A three-year pilot program to provide support services for high school students in Tennessee’s 15 distressed counties
  • Establish the Governor’s Civics Instructional Seal to support and recognize schools that prioritize teaching our nation’s history and civic values
  • Investing an additional $175 million in new funding to support teachers and students in public schools
  • Establishing an independent statewide charter school authorizer and adding $6 million to the charter school facilities fund

Enhancing Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform

  • Investing $40 million in school safety enhancements
  • Increasing penalties for trafficking fentanyl
  • Increasing the training pay supplement for firefighters and police officers
  • Increasing salaries for corrections professionals
  • Expanding the Electronic Monitoring Indigency fund to reduce needs for pre-trial incarceration
  • Eliminating the state fee for the expungement of records for those who have paid their debt to society
  • $5 million to expand recovery courts and services for people in the justice system with drug abuse issues
  • $4 million investment in pre-release rehabilitation and education for incarcerated individuals

Investing in Health Care and Good Government Initiatives

  • Establishing the Office of Faith Based Initiatives to support partnerships with the non-profit community
  • Expanding the state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit with an additional 24 positions dedicated to identifying fraud and waste
  • Investing an additional $11 million to support mental health services through the behavioral health safety net and regional mental institutes.
  • Increasing funding for graduate medical education at Tennessee’s medical schools and critical incentive programs that provide financial support to resident physicians who commit to living and working in our rural communities
  • Investing an additional $2 million recurring for the primary care safety net for federally-qualified health centers (FQHCs) and community- and faith-based clinics, providing primary care services to low-income, uninsured adults
  • A $3 million recurring increase to support medical students who agree to work in an underserved area after graduation. These state dollars would draw down an additional $5.7 million in federal funds
  • $11.9 million investment to maintain pay increases funded in last year’s budget for providers delivering services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Press Release from the Office of Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson, April 30:

Comptroller’s Office Studies Teacher Salaries In Tennessee

Link: https://www.comptroller.tn.gov/news/2019/4/25/comptroller-s-office-studies-teacher-salaries-in-tennessee.html

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has released a report examining how money intended to boost teacher salaries has been used by local school districts. More than $300 million in new, recurring state dollars was appropriated by the General Assembly though the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) between fiscal years 2016 and 2018. The legislative intent for the increased state funding was to increase teacher salaries across Tennessee.

The Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) surveyed Tennessee’s school districts, and the majority of respondents reported awarding salary increases to teachers for three consecutive years (fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018). Those pay raises resulted in an increase of Tennessee’s average classroom teacher salary of 6.2 percent (just under $3,000), making it the third fastest-growing state in the Southeast for teacher salaries during fiscal years 2015 through 2018. In addition to providing raises, districts also used increased state BEP instructional salaries funds to hire more instructional staff.

OREA found that while total local revenue budgeted for school districts increased at about the same rate as BEP state revenue, salary expenditures (whether for new hires or raises) could not be linked back to their revenue source, either state or local. District budgets do not identify what portion of expenditures are paid with state funds versus local funds.

The state’s main lever for increasing state funding for salaries – the BEP formula’s salary unit cost figure – is not directly linked to pay raises for every teacher. The increased funding generated through the salary unit cost is applied only to BEP-calculated positions; most districts fund additional positions. Because districts employ more staff than are covered by BEP funding, the available state and local dollars earmarked for salaries must stretch over more teachers than the staff positions generated by the BEP.

OREA examined district expenditures and found that, statewide, districts increased spending for instructional salaries and health insurance by about 9 percent while spending on retirement increased about 8 percent. At the individual district level, the growth in salary expenditures varied, from a decrease of 10 percent to an increase of over 26 percent.

The Comptroller’s report includes policy considerations addressing how the state may wish to implement an in-depth salary survey of selected districts to periodically obtain a more complete picture of district salary trends, as well as develop a process to determine which districts are eligible for a separate state allocation of salary equity funding, intended to raise teacher salaries in select districts with lower-than-average salaries.

To read the Comptroller’s report, please visit https://www.comptroller.tn.gov/OREA/

News Release from Middle Tennessee State University, April 18, 2019:

Link: https://mtsunews.com/healthcare-tech-jobs-report-2019/

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — App developers are the most in-demand tech jobs in the Middle Tennessee’s burgeoning healthcare industry and demand for healthcare tech workers overall “grew steadily” in recent years, according to a new MTSU report.

Released Thursday at the latest tech talk hosted by the Greater Nashville Technology Council, the “Healthcare Tech Middle Tennessee” report was developed by the Department of Information Systems and Analytics in MTSU’s Jones College of Business in partnership with the tech advocacy organization.

Report author Amy Harris, associate professor in information systems and analytics, moderated a panel of experts from area healthcare tech companies to discuss the report findings and what they mean for the region’s healthcare sector.

“Health care is such a strong economic driver in this region that we felt it was important to understand more about its contribution to tech workforce demand,” said Harris, who released a report late last year about the state of tech jobs overall in the Midstate.

“The study’s findings provide evidence of healthy — and growing — demand for health care tech workers. Of the 38,000-plus postings for tech jobs in Middle Tennessee last year, one-third were associated with healthcare. That’s just over 12,500 healthcare tech jobs. This is strong evidence that the increasing use of technology in healthcare delivery is fueling job growth in our region.”

The report — which includes breakdowns in areas such as most in-demand occupations, job titles, and skills — covers the Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin and Clarksville, TN-KY metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). You can download the full report at http://www.middletntechjobs.com/healthcare-tech-2019/.

“Understanding the specific tech talent needs of our major industries is vital to the success in growing our tech workforce,” explained Brian Moyer, president and CEO of the Greater Nashville Technology Council. “We want to thank Dr. Harris and the MTSU Department of Information Systems and Analytics for their continued efforts to shed light on the unique facets of region’s tech community.”

Other report highlights:

  • When comparing healthcare tech job demand to overall tech job demand, there was a high degree of consistency in the top occupations, job titles, skills, and qualifications. However, there was considerable variation in the proportion of overall tech demand driven by healthcare when looking at individual occupations and job titles.
  • Demand for healthcare tech workers grew steadily through 2017 and 2018, peaking at 3,072 active job postings in December 2018.
  • The most in-demand healthcare tech occupation was Software Developers, Applications with 12.7 percent of postings associated with this occupation group. The Management Analysts and Computer Systems Analysts occupation groups followed close behind, with 12.5 percent and 11.8 percent of postings, respectively.
  • SQL (a software programming language) is the most in-demand skill for healthcare tech workers with 23 percent of postings referencing this skill. Agile Software Development and Business Requirements followed, appearing in 15 percent and 9 percent of postings, respectively.

This report is part of the Middle Tennessee Tech research program, which has the goal of providing industry, economic development, and academic audiences with data on the current state of the Midstate technology workforce. It is a partnership between MTSU’s Department of Information Systems and Analytics and the Greater Nashville Technology Council.

The Tennessee Legislature this week approved a measure that proposes creating a nine-member statewide commission to authorize new charter schools and oversee their subsequent performance.

Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a school-choice proponent, has been promoting the legislation.

Under the provisions of Senate Bill 796, the “Public Charter School Commission” would act as an appeals board for hearing challenges to a local board of education’s decision to reject a charter school application. If the commission reverses the local board’s decision and subsequently approves the charter school, then the commission members would thereafter serve as that charter school’s oversight authority.

The legislation passed by decisive margins in both General Assembly chambers — 61-37 in the House and 27-3 in the Senate. State Reps. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, and John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, were the only Upper Cumberland lawmakers voting against the bill.

The new commission would supersede the charter-school oversight responsibilities currently administered by the State Board of Education, according to one of the legislation’s primary Senate sponsors, Germantown Republican Brian Kelsey.

The State BOE would, however, ultimately oversee the Charter School Commission.

“Most public charter schools in our state are offering a great education to our lowest income children for free,” Kelsey said in a press release. “We are hopeful that this legislation will encourage more high-quality schools to open in Tennessee.”

Kelsey predicts that the measure will create an environment wherein charter schools are held to higher standards. Senate Bill 796 will also ensure that “low-performing charters” are more effectively weeded out, he said.

Press Release from the Office of Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, April 4, 2019:

Gov. Bill Lee Works with General Assembly to Temporarily Reinstate Paper-Based Student Testing in 2019-2020 School Year

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that his administration, in coordination with the Tennessee General Assembly, is temporarily reinstating paper-based assessments for students in the 2019-2020 school year.

“We must ensure the utmost quality in our annual assessment,” said Lee. “Commissioner Schwinn and her team at the Department of Education are doing outstanding work to get testing on the right track, and we thank the General Assembly for their thoughtful approach on this matter.”

Testing for the 2018-2019 school year, the final year with the current vendor, begins on Monday, April 8 and the online version of the test will be delivered as scheduled. In preparation for testing, 100% of districts reported as meeting the criteria for technical readiness to give the online assessment.

The move to temporarily reinstate paper-based testing next year will allow the new vendor to establish an accountable, long-term solution to be put in place for students, teachers and taxpayers.

“One year of paper-based testing will give the new vendor a full year to properly stand up a Tennessee office, hire exceptional talent, and make sure the assessment is ready for Tennessee classrooms,” said Commissioner Schwinn.

Legislative leadership offered support for the move:

“I fully support this amendment because our students and teachers deserve a system that works. I look forward to working with legislative colleagues and the Lee Administration to build a solution.” – Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson

“I am proud to work with House Education Chairman Mark White and the Lee Administration on this amendment so that we may ensure that the Commissioner of Education has the flexibility needed to do what is in the best interest of our children during the continued phase of planning toward the best system possible.” – House Majority Leader William Lamberth

“Our priority is to act in the best interest of Tennessee students. This amendment is a step in the right direction. I look forward to working with the House and the Lee Administration in these efforts to ensure our students are set up for success.” – Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham

“Our teachers and students deserve our best and this will give the Department of Education time to ensure that everything is running smoothly.” – House Education Committee Chairman Mark White