Gov. Phil Bredesen’s bill designed to improve college graduation rates got hung up for a while during the legislative special session Thursday when a handful of lawmakers managed to add an amendment that others felt hadn’t been properly vetted.
The measure would have let returning adult college students cash in on class credits earned as long as 20 years ago. Currently, the policy is 10 years, according to Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, who sponsored the bill.
The amendment, narrowly approved 50-31 in the House, sparked concern by some members who questioned the potential price tag. The amendment had not been heard by any committees, which had spent the week reviewing higher education laws.
“There were a lot of unanswered questions,” said Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, who voted against the measure. “What was it going to cost? What was it going to do to colleges and universities as far as the way they schedule, as far as the way they plan for students and that sort of thing.”
Montgomery, a member of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee, said he supports the concept but that he’d like it taken up during regular session.
At one point lawmakers in the Budget Subcommittee, Finance Ways and Means and the Calendar and Rules committees took the unusual move of congregating for brief discussions at the House floor podium to review the amendment.
Those meetings, which lasted no more than a few minutes each, gave committees a chance to review the amendment — and subsequently express that they didn’t have much of a clue how much the change would cost the state or college institutions.
Anderson, the bill sponsor, later got it stripped from the proposed legislation.
Montgomery said the measure – had it stuck — could have held up the higher education bill when the bill was reconciled in the Senate.
The full House and Senate chambers approved the bill Thursday evening, with a total vote of 125-2.
The package, which requires Gov. Phil Bredesen’s signiture, requires the higher education funding formula to rely on graduation rates rather than student enrollment.
It also shifts remedial courses from universities to courses to community colleges. The bill also makes it easier to transfer from a community college to a four-year university.