March 15, 2023


The late Notorious RBG would have turned 90 years old today.

In today's report: Hopes that the state Legislature would return local control over decisions about holding back third-graders appeared dimmer on Tuesday. Instead, a key subcommittee sent forth a modified version of the existing law, which could affect up to half of this year's third-grade class. We have the legislative action, and reaction from a Knox County school board member.

The House K-12 Subcommittee that approved the retention bill also yesterday voted to establish a "federal education funding task force," to study whether Tennessee should refuse all federal education money.

The bill is the brainchild of House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who floated the idea earlier in the legislative session. He has suggested the state would be better off getting rid of the $1.8 billion in annual federal funding for Tennessee schools, and the federal regulations that go with it.

That has concerned some education and community advocates, who note that much of the federal funding supports lower-income students and students with disabilities. Sexton has said the state — currently flush with cash from booming sales taxes — would make up for any lost funds and would have the opportunity to build better programs to serve disadvantaged children.

Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington, who presented the bill on Sexton's behalf, said, "The goal of the task force is to identify the amount of federal funding received by the state in each political subdivision for educational programs or purposes in the current fiscal year; each federal law, regulation or program from which this state receives federal funding; and whether the state has the option not to comply with or participate in with each respective federal law, regulation or program."

Rep. Sam McKenzie, D-Knoxville, objected to the bill. He noted that it would create an 11-member committee with three members each from the state House and Senate, two school superintendents, two teachers and the state commissioner of education.

"You've got two teachers, two administrators and a bunch of politicians," McKenzie said during Tuesday's hearing. "The way the committee is stacked, I think we know what the outcome's going to be of this study."

Moody said there was no foregone conclusion about whether Tennessee would eventually decide to be the first state to turn down federal education funding. McKenzie replied that Tennesseans pay federal taxes and their schools should receive their share of federal funds.

"I think this task force is ill-conceived at this point, and I think its mission is a very, very dangerous mission," he said.

The task force still needs approval in both the House and Senate. Like the retention bill, it is up for approval today in the Senate Education Committee. The hearing starts at noon Central time/1 p.m. Eastern, and you can find a link to a livestream of it here.

When Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico in September 2017, the storm wiped out virtually all of the island’s electricity grid. It took 328 days, or roughly 11 months, for the island to restore power to all of the customers who lost it during the hurricane, which marked the longest blackout in U.S. history.

Since then, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have been working to create a support system for smaller “microgrids” that can withstand damage to the island’s overall grid due to a storm or other catastrophe.

ORNL’s Ben Ollis and Max Ferrari have developed a computerized tool called an orchestrator to keep the lights on during outages to the grid at large. They will be demonstrating their technology in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, where two new community microgrids equipped with solar panels and batteries have been installed.

“There’s a real chance people’s lives could be changed by this technology in the future,” Ollis said in a statement. “It’s always great to see your research doing something so tangible.”

Adjuntas is a mountain town in the island’s interior. ORNL’s researchers hope their work can improve the quality of life in the town, which often loses power for weeks at a time even when not battered by hurricanes or tropical storms.

The Knox County Democratic Party is beginning its reorganization process of choosing officers for the next two years, and all who identify as Democrats are welcome to participate.

The party convention is on April 1. (Insert your own April Fool's joke here.) To be a voting delegate at the convention, you have to do one of two things: attend your local district party meeting this month, or email your district chairman at least 24 hours ahead of the local district meeting and let them know you plan on attending the convention and want to be a delegate.

Districts are the same as County Commission districts. Here's the list of district meeting dates and chairs (note the District 2 meeting is tomorrow):

District 1 – Monday, March 20. 6 p.m. at the KCDP HQ (311 Morgan St.). Contact [email protected]

District 2 – Thursday, March 16. 6 p.m. at the KCDP HQ. Contact [email protected]

District 3 - Monday, March 20. 6 p.m. at Hey Bear Cafe (9036 Middlebrook Pike). Contact [email protected] 

District 4 – Tuesday, March 28. 6 p.m. at Bearden Library (100 Golf Club Road). Contact [email protected]

District 5 – Thursday, March 23. 6 p.m. at private residence. (Please call 865-264-9435 or email [email protected] for address)

District 6 – Saturday, March 25. 10:15 a.m. at the Karns Library (7516 Oak Ridge Hwy). Contact [email protected]

District 7 – Saturday, March 18. 2 p.m. at the Powell Library (330 W Emory Road). Contact [email protected]

District 8 – Monday, March 20. 6:30 p.m. at New Harvest Community Center (4775 New Harvest Lane). Contact [email protected]

District 9 – Monday, March 20. 6 p.m. at Round Up Restaurant (3643 Sevierville Pike). Contact [email protected]

The convention will be at 9:30 a.m. on April 1 at the Change Center, 203 Harriet Tubman St.


Local nonprofits can receive grants to provide summer jobs and opportunities for young people at risk for violence through the city’s Summer Opportunity Youth Grant program.


“Summer is an ideal time to engage with young people who are out of school and not working,” Chief Community Safety Officer LaKenya Middlebrook said in a statement. “The opportunities they get through this program — to work, learn new skills, receive mentorship and get paid for it — leads to future opportunities during the school year and beyond.”


Community organizations can apply for funding in amounts between $3,000 and $20,000 to expand their summer programs to include opportunity youth — those who are at-risk, or proven risk, for violence because they are currently or previously engaged with the juvenile or criminal justice system, have a close friend or family member who has recently been involved in violent crime, or may have themselves been a violent crime victim.

Last year, 10 community organizations funded by the grants program served 220 young people during summer break. Activities included job skills like financial literacy, resumes and interviewing; creative endeavors like writing, screen-printing, photography, vision boarding and ceramics; and life skills like budgeting and healthy eating habits.


Applications are due by 4:30 p.m. on Thursday. Applications and additional information, as well as the Impact Report for 2022 Spring and Summer Break Opportunity Youth Grants, are available here.

Funny story about that ...