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Kyle WantsTuition Freeze, Deeper Food-Tax Cut

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; June 13, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle called on Governor Bill Haslam and lawmakers to introduce larger cuts to the food tax and to freeze college tuition rates amidst news that the state government has nearly $225 million in excess funds.

“The Governor has said he believes we should provide the best services at the lowest cost possible,” Kyle said. “It’s time to take out the scissors and give the people of Tennessee new, lower prices on food and education.”

Lawmakers this year repealed the state’s gift and inheritance taxes, saving some of the wealthiest Tennesseans millions in current and future taxes, while approving a .25 percent decrease in the food tax – meaning middle-class Tennesseans will save only 25 cents per $100 of groceries.

Kyle also encouraged Haslam and higher education leaders to hold the line on college tuition rates. The same week the excess revenues were announced, state community colleges and universities proposed tuition increases ranging from 4 to 7 percent.

“We’re asking Tennesseans to pay more for college while saying that we have all this extra money,” Kyle said. “Something doesn’t add up.”

An analysis by Kyle’s office shows that if half of the excess revenues were allocated to higher education, the proposed per-student tuition increases would be more than covered at Tennessee Board of Regents institutions like the University of Memphis. University of Tennessee officials are expected to discuss tuition rates in the coming days.

Kyle said Wednesday that he intends to bring legislation regarding both issues when the 108th General Assembly begins in January 2013.

“We were told for months to ignore the millions of dollars in excess revenue the state was raking in,” Kyle said. “Now that we know just how much is out there, we ought to help everyday Tennesseans with it.”

Comptroller Lauds TN ‘Complete College Act’

Press release from the Office of the Comptroller of Tennessee; May 17, 2012:

Implementation of the Complete College Act of 2010 is going well, although there are steps that should be taken to improve the process, according to a report released today by the Comptroller’s Division of State Audit.

Auditors examined the efforts of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees and the Tennessee Board of Regents in implementing the law.

Under the law, public community colleges and universities are supposed to create “transfer pathways” – that is, blocks of class credits that are guaranteed to transfer from one higher education institution to another.

However, through the end of last year, transfer pathways had been created to accommodate only 23 majors.

The report recommends that transfer pathways be created for all available college majors, or else the Tennessee General Assembly may want to consider exempting some particularly challenging majors from the provisions of the law. The report also suggests that colleges and universities should place more emphasis on publicizing the available transfer pathways on their web sites.

The new law also requires funding for colleges and universities to be based on a formula that includes factors such as the number of students who graduate, as opposed to the number of students who enroll.

The report suggests that the Tennessee Higher Education Commission needs to provide more detail about what types of data higher education institutions need to submit in order to take advantage of the funding formula. Also, the report says those institutions should take additional steps to verify that the data they provide is accurate.

The law calls for the elimination of unnecessary redundancies in academic program offerings. The report recommends that the Tennessee Higher Education Commission be vigilant in ensuring redundancies are eliminated. If unneeded programs are not eliminated, the report says the General Assembly may wish to transfer authority for eliminating those programs from the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

“I am pleased that progress has been made, but this report clearly illustrates that there is more work to be done,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “I hope the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Tennessee Board of Regents and University of Tennessee Board of Trustees will continue their efforts to implement these recommendations in order to make sure the law is put into practice in the manner in which our state legislators intended it to be.”

To view the report online, go to http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/repository/SA/pa11055.pdf

Higher Spending Requested for Higher Ed

Tennessee higher education officials, sensing the wind in the back of the state’s education reform efforts, boldly made their request to Gov. Bill Haslam Tuesday for a budget increase of $28.7 million.

Haslam has asked all state agencies to submit a contingency plan for 5 percent reductions, and the state’s higher education schools complied with an outline that would trim $55.1 million from their books.

But leaders of the state’s public colleges and universities seized upon the initiatives from K-12 education and higher education like the Complete College Act as a means of persuasion with the governor. The $28.7 million request represents a 2.7 percent increase in funds.

“This is an interesting time,” Richard G. Rhoda, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, told Haslam during a budget hearing. “We have a new way of looking at it.

“The state has higher education serving the needs of the state. We have a new master plan. We have a new funding formula that reinforces that master plan based on outcomes. We’re seeing positive movement.”

Rhoda said there are indicators of more students completing degrees, better retention rates and improvements in the amount of remedial and developmental courses that have been falling to higher education. But even as a higher ed official, Rhoda pointed to the significance of what the state is doing in K-12 as the foundation for improvements in higher education.

“The reforms in higher education are great, but the bigger context is how it fits the other reforms in K-12,” Rhoda said. “For us to succeed really is predicated on those improvements in K-12. Just suffice it to say we very much support those.”

Rhoda sat between Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan and University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro at the hearing at the Capitol in Nashville. All three seemed keenly aware of the daunting financial obstacles facing students and families in affording college. THEC approved its budget request last week, but it came along with proposed increases in tuition that would range from 3-10 percent depending on the schools in the state’s higher education system.

Morgan made a pitch similar to Rhoda’s.

“The combination of Race to the Top, the Complete College Act, the talk is right,” Morgan said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of energy out there and discussion going on and realization that it really is about the state’s future.”

The education officials knew they were preaching to the choir in Haslam, who has made the ties between education and job growth a major theme in his first year in office. But it didn’t make the governor’s job any easier in funding education requests. Haslam cut the budget for higher education in his first year in office by 2 percent, or $20 million.

But the three educators brought even more ammunition to the table. DiPietro pointed to efforts to operate more efficiently in universities. Morgan said the costs at schools actually haven’t gone up at the pace of what students are experiencing in paying tuition.

Rhoda broke down funding trends for Haslam. He told the governor that 10 years ago a university’s funding came roughly 60 percent from the state and 40 percent from the students, while community colleges received about 70 percent from the state at that time.

Now, the figures have been reversed, Rhoda said. The state provides about 36 percent while student tuition and fees cover 53 percent. Rhoda, like Morgan, said cost itself is not increasing for the schools. The change, he said, is in the mix of revenue, where students are having to pay more for their share.

Haslam told reporters after the hearing that he believes there will have to be some tuition increase but that he hopes to limit it. He said he didn’t anticipate being able to grant the colleges a $28.7 million increase but that he didn’t believe he would have to hold them to a 5 percent decrease either. Haslam also pointed to capital needs at colleges and universities.

Haslam said the recent improvements in revenue figures could help the state address a $360 million budget gap.

“I’m really, really hopeful we don’t have to go 5 percent,” Haslam said. “Some of those cuts are tough.

“I feel a little better now than I did three weeks ago, but I can’t sit here today and tell you it will be 3 percent or 1 percent, instead of 5. I just don’t know that yet.”

The state reported that revenue collections for October were $791 million, 8 percent above October in 2010.

Haslam Asks For $5 Million For State Takeover of Lambuth

The state is moving closer to taking over Lambuth University, a troubled private college in Jackson whose finances have been in turmoil and recently announced it would close in June.

The Jackson Sun reports that Gov. Bill Haslam has asked the legislature to set aside $5 million to enable the University of Memphis to take over the Methodist school, which even the star power of Bill Cosby was unable to save.

Haslam’s request, presented to the Senate Finance Committee, is contingent on Jackson and Madison County officials and other community leaders raising $15 million to $19 million. The locally raised money would be used to pay off Lambuth’s debt — which is about $10 million — and to pay for campus repairs and maintenance needs.

Inside Higher Ed has one of the best Cliffs Notes versions of the school’s meltdown, from its failure to meet payroll, the loss of its accreditation, and various proposals which didn’t pan out to partner with for-profit groups.

The Jackson Sun has posted a timeline tracking the school’s history.

Haslam Takes Up Task of Trimming Down Spending

Gov. Bill Haslam kicked off a four-day stretch of departmental hearings Monday as a warm-up to drafting his first state budget.

The new governor digested spending-plan projections from some heavy fiscal hitters right off the bat, including the Departments of Health, Education and Higher Education, which all had to present budget scenarios with reductions of 1 percent and 2 percent.

“We have 23 departments, if you add up all the requests, it will be a number obviously that we can’t fund,” Haslam said during a short break between hearings. “It’s their job to request that and to prioritize that … and then we have to wade through that at the end of the day.”

Haslam said he’s confident there’ll be fewer employees on the state payroll under his budget plan. But he said reductions need to be made “surgically” instead of by slashing staff with massive layoffs.

Haslam also heard from the Departments of Tourist Development and Financial Institutions Monday. On Tuesday, he is scheduled to hear from the Education Lottery Corporation and the Departments of Environment and Conservation, Transportation, Labor and Workforce Development, Corrections, Veterans Affairs, General Services, Commerce and Insurance, and Economic and Community Development. Hearings are expected to continue through Thursday morning.

Here are some highlights from Monday’s hearings:

Education

Education officials proposed an increase of $423 million in the state-funded portion of its budget, bringing the overall budget to $5.1 billion. Acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith said the increase includes pay rasies and increased state funding to schools mandated by inflation and the state’s school funding formula.

Haslam told reporters that he’s committed to fully funding schools as called for under the formula, known as the Basic Education Program.

“If you look at new dollars that are available in the state, at the end of the day, about half of them will be end up taken up in (Basic Education Program) formula and TennCare increases, just by formula, not by doing anything different,” he said.

Smith outlined about $3.5 million in possible cuts, which would eliminate positions and supply costs. The proposal would also reduce operating costs for the state’s schools for the blind and deaf, cut grants that support public television stations operated by schools and reduce other programs. Without additional funds, about $70 million in other programs and grants paid for with one-time money will be cut.

The total education budget is estimated to decrease this year by about $510 million because of a $1 billion reduction in federal funds.

Tourist Development

State tourism officials say they want to build two new “Welcome Centers,” even though all departments have been asked to propose reductions to their annual budget as one-time federal stimulus dollars run out this year. According to the department, the state currently operates 14 Welcome Centers across the state.

They described plans to build a center as part of a solar farm in Haywood County, and another visitor center along I-26 in Sullivan County.

Haslam questioned the expansion plans: “I’m just wondering why, in tight times, we’re adding them.”

The centers had “been on the books for 10 years,” and the planning and funding had been approved for several years as well, Department Commissioner Susan Whitaker said.

Health

Haslam opened his first budget hearing with Commissioner of Health Susan Cooper, who emphasized the department’s role in instilling good health into all environments and not specifically focused on individual clinical care. She addressed disease prevention and outbreak investigations, immunizations, licensing facilities and emergency preparedness.

The department employs roughly 3,000 people.

She noted that in 2005 the state ranked 48th in the nation in health status but is now 42nd, crediting decreased use of tobacco and returns on investment in community efforts to fight diabetes.

Haslam set the tone early that he would ask many questions along the way, frequently interjecting and asking if stimulus funds had been involved in expenditures.

Cooper noted that good health factors can be attractive to new businesses. She outlined a base budget of $539 million.

The department offered several potential budget reduction areas such as travel, cutting communications costs, abolishing a few positions and eliminating a hemophilia program, which she quickly added would require a change in statute.

Higher Education

Joe DiPietro, president of the University of Tennessee, and John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents made their first budget appearances since taking their new positions. The message they gave Haslam was that while there are great financial challenges facing the system, the state has high value in its higher education institutions.

Richard G. Rhoda, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission led off the presentation and underscored the financial crunch by telling Haslam that in the last 10 years enrollment at the state’s four-year schools has gone up 22 percent but that they have seen appropriations fall 33 percent. At the same time, tuition and fees have risen 74 percent.

Meanwhile, Rhoda said, enrollment at two-year schools is up 38 percent during that period while appropriations are down 26 percent. But in that time, tuition and fees for those schools have risen 126 percent.

Morgan said space constraints are a serious problem at many of the state’s technology centers. DiPietro said one issue facing UT is that some buildings are over 40 years old and in need of repairs. When Haslam asked the higher ed panel if they had any creative ideas to address the financial stress on the system, one possibility Morgan raised was to apply means-testing to the HOPE scholarships derived from the state’s lottery. Haslam said after the hearing he is not ready to take such a step.

Reid Akins and Mike Morrow contributed to this report.

TBR’s Batting Order

Members of the Senate Education Committee are planning to play some hard ball with the Tennessee Board of Regents today and tomorrow.

At issue is the board’s controversial appointment of Deputy Gov. John Morgan to the top spot overseeing the state’s higher education system. The Board hired the high-ranking Democrat last month without interviewing any other candidates. Morgan also lacks a doctorate degree, which had traditionally be required for the job until this year.

Senators will begin interviewing all but four of the board’s appointed members Tuesday afternoon. The hearings will likely continue on Wednesday, said Nathan James, a research analyst for the committee.

Here’s the lineup:

Tuesday:

Gregory Duckett

Fran Marcum

J. Stanley Rogers

Judy T. Gooch

John S. “Steve” Copeland

Wednesday:

Gregory Duckett

John Farris

Pam Fansler

Howard Roddy

Barry Gidcomb

Not attending:

Ageina Clark

Jonas Kisber

Robert P. Thomas

Paul Montgomery

State Wins Slice of New Education Grant

State of Tennessee Press Release; Sept. 2, 2010:

NASHVILLE –Tennessee will share in a $170 million Race to the Top Assessment Program grant announced today by the U.S. Department of Education. Twenty-six states joined together to create the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). Florida submitted an application in June on behalf of the 26-state consortium. The funds will be used to develop common assessments aligned to common standards for what students should learn at each grade level.

“The funds awarded to this partnership will allow us to create a common assessment and performance standards anchored in college and career readiness,” said Governor Phil Bredesen. “This will help us reach our fundamental goal of increasing the rate at which students graduate from high school prepared for success in college and the workplace.”

Together, the 26 PARCC states educate more than 60 percent of the K-12 students in the United States. Tennessee is one of 11 governing states that will lead the assessment development effort for the partnership along with Arizona, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. Florida will serve as the Partnership’s fiscal agent.

The goal of PARCC is to create an assessment system that will help states dramatically increase the number of students that graduate high school ready for college and careers and provide students, parents, teachers and policymakers with the tools they need to help students – from grade three through high school – stay on track and graduate prepared.

The proposed assessment system will be computer based, with students taking parts of the assessment at key times during the school year, closer to when they learn the material, rather than waiting for a single test at the end of the year. Teachers and principals will be able to see how students are progressing toward achieving the standards at key points in the school year, allowing them to adjust instructional practices or give extra support to students who need it.

Because the assessments will be developed by states in partnership with one another, they will provide a common metric for measuring the performance of their students; for the first time, meeting standards in one state will mean the same thing as in others.

To ensure the assessment system is anchored in what it takes to be successful in college and careers, higher education systems and institutions in all PARCC states will participate in the development of the new high school tests. More than 200 higher education institutions, including some of the largest in the country, have agreed to participate. The goal will be for those institutions, and the nearly 1,000 campuses they represent, to honor the results of the new assessments as an indicator of students’ readiness to take first-year credit-bearing courses.

Achieve played a key role in coordinating the work of the partnership, leveraging the organization’s experience in developing education standards, including helping develop the Common Core State Standards, and its experience leading multi-state assessment development efforts anchored in college- and career-ready goals.

Achieve is an independent, bipartisan, nonprofit education reform organization based in Washington D.C. that helps states raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability. Governor Bredesen serves as co-chair of the Achieve Board of Directors.

More information about today’s grant announcement is online at:

http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-secretary-education-duncan-announces-winners-competition-improve-student-asse.

Senate Education Chairwoman Wants Expanded Search for New Chancellor

Press Release from Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville; Aug. 5, 2010:

(NASHVILLE, TN), August 5, 2010 – Below please find the text of a letter sent to the 18 members of the Tennessee Board of Regents from Senate Education Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) regarding the position of Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents:

“After reading reports that there is only one applicant under review for Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, I am writing to ask that you conduct an expanded search for this top position in higher education in our state. The person chosen to lead Tennessee’s higher education system should be steeped in scholarship and must lead by example. The Board should also look at applicants with senior managerial experience in public education.

This is even more important at this juncture in our state’s education future, as we look to fulfill the reforms passed by the legislature this year in our First to the Top and Complete College Tennessee Acts. Under the First to the Top act we raised academic standards for K-12 students across this state. The Complete College Tennessee Act also set lofty goals to push Tennessee students to obtain advanced post secondary degrees.

Under the Board’s new guidelines, an applicant is only required to have an associate’s degree from a community college or technological center or a bachelor’s degree. This is a significant departure from the previous search requirements which mandated an applicant have an earned doctorate degree. In fact, this education requirement was previously deemed so important that it was listed on the first line of the stated requisites.

The action of the Board in this regards is such a major deviation from general practice that it would leave one to conclude that the requirements were rewritten to fill the position with an applicant already selected. It means that the Tennessee Board of Regents may become the only higher education system in the United States requiring neither an advanced nor terminal degree for its chief academic officer. Other possible applicants have obviously drawn the conclusion that the search has been completed, limiting the Board’s ability to make a reasonable effort for the best qualified person to lead our state’s top position in higher education.

In conclusion, I am making this request that you expand the search for this most important position in higher education in our state. Tennessee students deserve your utmost attention to this most important decision.

Sincerely,

Dolores Gresham

Chairman, Senate Education Committee”

Haslam Points to ‘KnoxAchieves’ As Best Practice

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor; April 29, 2010:

Recognizes Similar Programs Across the State, Praises Locally Grown Efforts

KNOXVILLE – Republican gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam today highlighted the work of “knoxAchieves,” a last-dollar scholarship program in Knox County that he has helped lead since its inception in 2008.

Mayor Haslam praised the work of knoxAchieves and similar locally-driven programs across the state that have increased access to community college for many Tennessee students. This year knoxAchieves will provide an opportunity for 500 graduates of Knox County public schools to receive scholarships of up to $3,000 to attend area community colleges.

“The knoxAchieves model is unique in that it is volunteer-driven,” Haslam said. “It’s completely privately funded, and it relies on volunteers from the community to serve as mentors and counselors to students. Scholarship recipients also give back to the community by volunteering a certain amount of time each semester.”

“I’m proud of the work of knoxAchieves and its focus on first generation college students,” Haslam continued. “Not only does this program provide unique opportunities to students who otherwise may not have gone to college, but it benefits the entire community in a number of ways. If we’re going to bring more and better jobs to Tennessee, we’ve got increase the level of educational attainment across the state.”

Mayor Haslam conducted a three-week, statewide Jobs Tour in March, and the concern expressed most often by small business owners was the shortage of properly trained and educated workers. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that in coming years 90 percent of jobs in high-growth industries will require at least some postsecondary education or training. In an effort to address that challenge, Mayor Haslam has been traveling the state assessing workforce development strengths and weaknesses, and most recently, discussing the status of our K-12 education system.

“If you look across the state, there are similar locally grown scholarship programs that are increasing access and helping develop the local workforce,” said Haslam.

“From the regional effort of Southwest Tennessee Educational Pathways, to the award-winning Educate & Grow, a public/private partnership in Northeast Tennessee, to Shelby County’s STEP program and the Ayers Foundation Scholars in Decatur County, communities and regions across Tennessee are finding innovative ways to improve college access,” Haslam said.

“These efforts will be critical to our effort to make Tennessee the No. 1 state in the Southeast for high quality jobs,” Haslam continued. “That’s why I’d like to see these best practices shared with communities looking to find their own unique solutions for increased educational attainment and improved workforce development.”

Bill Haslam is the two-term Mayor of Knoxville, re-elected in 2007 with 87% of the vote. A hardworking, conservative public servant, he led Knoxville to become one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion, while reducing the city’s debt, tripling the rainy day fund, and bringing property taxes to the lowest rate in 50 years. An executive leader with a proven record of success, he helped grow his family’s small business from 800 employees into one of Tennessee’s largest companies with 14,000 employees. His combination of executive and public service experience makes him uniquely qualified to be Tennessee’s next Governor. Haslam is the right person at the right time to lead Tennessee.

Bill and Crissy Haslam have two daughters, Annie and Leigh, and a son, Will, who resides in Knoxville with his wife, Hannah.

For more information on Bill Haslam, please visit www.BillHaslam.com.

Haslam Talks About Workforce Development At Colleges

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor; April 16, 2010:

Four-Year Institutions Will Play Critical Role in Reaching Jobs Goals

MURFREESBORO – Speaking with officials at Middle Tennessee State University today, Republican gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam emphasized the important role Tennessee’s four-year higher education institutions will play in helping us become the No. 1 state in the Southeast for high quality jobs.

Mayor Haslam, who has been devoting a significant amount of time on the campaign trail to visiting workforce development programs at community colleges and technology centers across the state, called for the state’s colleges and universities to be proactive in developing innovative workforce development partnerships with key businesses and industries.

“The most obvious way the state’s colleges and universities can help us achieve our goal of making Tennessee the best state in the Southeast for jobs is to work together to increase the percentage of the state’s workforce that hold degrees,” Haslam said. “With just over a fifth of Tennesseans possessing a bachelor’s degree in a 21st century economy that requires more education and training than ever, that number has to rise. However, we should also look for innovative ways to create seamless transitions between the college classroom and the workforce.”

During his visit to MTSU today, Mayor Haslam met with representatives from the Concrete Industry Management program. This innovative program is a partnership between an industry that needed to attract talented young managers and a university with the right characteristics and the foresight to recognize the unique opportunity such a program would afford its students.

“The Concrete Industry Management program at Middle Tennessee is a great example of business and higher education coming together to forge a partnership that benefits the school, the students, and the industry,” said Haslam. “It’s important for the state’s colleges and universities to create opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience in college and make a smooth transition into the workforce.

“There are examples of colleges and universities across Tennessee creating innovative workforce development partnerships, and as governor I will work to spread these practices by promoting proactive regional efforts to develop a workforce prepared for a 21st century economy,” Haslam said.

Bill Haslam is the two-term Mayor of Knoxville, re-elected in 2007 with 87% of the vote. A hardworking, conservative public servant, he led Knoxville to become one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion, while reducing the city’s debt, tripling the rainy day fund, and bringing property taxes to the lowest rate in 50 years. An executive leader with a proven record of success, he helped grow his family’s small business from 800 employees into one of Tennessee’s largest companies with 14,000 employees.

Bill and Crissy Haslam have two daughters, Annie and Leigh, and a son, Will, who resides in Knoxville with his wife, Hannah. For more information on Bill Haslam, please visit www.BillHaslam.com.