Categories
Press Releases

Cohen: TN Promise ‘Robs’ Existing Lottery Scholarships

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 23, 2015:

[MEMPHIS, TN] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), who is known across the state for his twenty-year fight to create a state lottery as “The Father of the Tennessee Education Lottery” and because Tennessee Lottery money is the source of the funding for Tennessee Promise has already been dubbed by some as “The Grandfather of the Funding of Tennessee Promise,” released the following statement regarding Governor Bill Haslam’s recent criticisms of America’s College Promise, which is President Obama’s new plan to provide two free years of community college:

“Governor Haslam says he is ‘flattered’ that President Obama used Tennessee Promise as a model for the national America’s College Promise program. But, in reality, the biggest correlation between the two programs is the name.

First, as Governor Haslam acknowledged this week, Tennessee’s program does not come out of the general budget. Instead, Tennessee Promise robs the existing Lottery Scholarship programs. Tennessee Promise takes $500 per year from college students who worked hard in high school to earn the Tennessee HOPE Lottery Scholarship to attend a four-year college or community college. It reduces by $125 per semester the HOPE Access Grants for achieving, low-income students to attend four-year colleges. Tennessee Promise also eliminates future growth of the HOPE Lottery Scholarships.  As a result, the HOPE Lottery Scholarships will now cover less and less of the cost of college as tuition continues to increase. Unlike the Tennessee Promise, the President’s plan would not destroy Pell grants or other current programs designed to provide opportunity to attend college.  America’s College Promise would supplement, not supplant, those programs.

Second, Tennessee Promise is a “last dollar” program, which means that it will only cover the cost of tuition and will not provide any financial support for housing, books or school-related expenses. Because it reduces the HOPE Lottery scholarships for students attending community college, some students who earn that scholarship will have less money for non-tuition expenses than they would have had before the enactment of Tennessee Promise. The federal program would allow for students to receive more than the cost of tuition to help cover those extra costs of attending college.

Third, Tennessee Promise will help the wealthier and less-accomplished students attend community college.  The Tennessee Education Lottery already provides scholarships for students who worked hard and achieved in high school to attend 4-year colleges and universities, community colleges and technical schools.  Since the last increase in 2007, the base HOPE Scholarship awards have covered $4,000 at 4-year schools and $1,500 at community colleges.  The Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills grant provide $2,000 for students to attend technical schools, which covers nearly two-thirds the cost of attendance.

Finally, President Obama set reasonable requirements in order to maintain America’s College Promise. Students benefitting from the President’s plan would need to maintain at least a 2.5 GPA in order to remain in the program.  Conversely, Governor Haslam’s plan had no academic standards when he proposed the program and no academic standards when it passed the legislature. Eventually, a 2.0 minimum college GPA requirement was set for the Tennessee Promise program.

Prior to the Governor’s unveiling of the Tennessee Promise program, I spoke and wrote to him suggesting that the income threshold for the HOPE Access grants be raised or that the value of those awards be increased to allow more opportunities for the most disadvantaged.  I remain disappointed that so much of the opportunity for the growth of the HOPE Scholarship programs has been destroyed by Tennessee Promise.

I will be extremely interested to see how Tennessee Promise performs during its first year in effect which begins this fall.  I suspect community college students will receive more financial aid dollars from the HOPE Scholarship program and Pell grants than from the Tennessee Promise program.

I hope that Governor Haslam and the legislature will consider increasing the amount of the HOPE Lottery programs this year, as they have not been raised to compensate for the rise in tuition during the past eight years—and, in fact, were lowered by the passage of Tennessee Promise.”

Categories
Press Releases

Haslam Pledges ‘Full Speed Ahead’ in 2015 State of the State

Press release from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; February 9, 2015:

Governor’s budget proposal prioritizes K-12 and higher education, jobs  

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam tonight delivered his 2015 State of the State and Budget address before a joint session of the 109th General Assembly in the House Chamber.

During the speech, he promised to move “full speed ahead” in serving Tennessee taxpayers and highlighted many of the state’s successes.

“I stand here tonight to tell you that the state of our state is enviable in many ways,” Haslam said. “There are a lot of good things happening in Tennessee, and they’re being recognized in significant ways across the country.”

Haslam noted several of the state’s accomplishments, including:

  • Nearly 225,000 new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee since 2011, and Tennessee holds the designation of “State of the Year” in economic development for an unprecedented second year in a row.
  • Tennessee leads the country in academic achievement gains and through the Tennessee Promise is the first state ever to promise high school graduates two years at a community or technical college free of tuition and fees.
  • This year, out of 65,000 high school seniors, 58,000 applied for the Tennessee Promise and 9,200 adult Tennesseans signed up to be volunteer mentors for these students.
  • Tennessee has the lowest debt per capita of any state and among the lowest tax rates.

Haslam also emphasized the importance of education in Tennessee – both K-12 and higher ed.

“I truly believe that getting education right is critical to the well-being of our state – today and in the future,” Haslam said. “We have to keep going full speed ahead.  We can’t afford to go backwards.  We’ve come too far to sell ourselves short. It would be an injustice to our students, to our teachers, to Tennessee families, and to ourselves.”

He underscored the state’s efforts to ensure a strong workforce through a focus on workforce development and his Drive to 55 initiative that aims to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school from 32 to 55 by the year 2025.  Part of that effort is the Tennessee Promise.

“For the last 30 years, Tennessee’s greatest need has been for better trained workers who can fill the jobs that companies want to bring here. We think the Tennessee Promise is a game changer.

“But the reality is that just reaching high school graduates won’t be enough to reach our goal,” he continued.  “In Tennessee, there are nearly one million adults with some post-secondary credit but without a degree. We have to figure out ways to reconnect those adults and remove the barriers that are preventing so many Tennesseans from earning their certificate or degree, which will lead to a better job and future.”

As part of the address, the governor outlined his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015-2016 which reflects $300 million in revenue growth, $500 million in cost increases and $200 million in reductions.

“Every year we have a limited amount of new money that is available from our revenue growth,” Haslam said.  “That new money rarely keeps pace with our budget obligations and growing costs for education and health care.  That’s why it is so important that our state has built a track record of fiscal restraint.

“That’s why we have to try different approaches that will help us keep costs down while increasing quality and outcomes in health care.”

The governor’s budget proposal includes nearly $170 million for K-12 education, including:

  • $100 million dollars for increasing teacher salaries, which amounts to a four percent pool that local education associations (LEAs) will have available as they make local decisions to increase teacher pay;
  • Nearly $44 million to fully fund the Basic Education Program; and
  • $5 million to create the Educators’ Liability Trust Fund to offer liability insurance to Tennessee teachers at no cost to them.Notable higher education investments include:
  • $260 million for capital projects, including new science facilities at Jackson State Community College and the University of Tennessee, nearly $25 million for improvements to colleges of applied technology across the state and funding for a fine arts classroom building at East Tennessee State University;
  • $25 million to fully fund the Complete College Act formula; and
  • $10 million for need-based scholarships for students;

The budget also includes specific workforce development investments geared to the governor’s Drive to 55 effort including:

  • $2.5 million for statewide outreach efforts geared toward adult students, technical assistance to local communities that are finding ways to support adult learners, and a one-stop portal for adults;
  • $2.5 million to support the success of the SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) program which address remediation in high school;
  • $1.5 million to provide last dollar scholarships to adults with some post-secondary credit to attend community college;
  • $1 million to establish competitive grants to 2-year and 4-year institutions to develop initiatives specifically designed for veterans; and
  • $400,000 to establish the Tennessee Promise Bridge Program, which will bring first-generation college students to campus prior to fall enrollment, which is one more step in making sure they have the best chance possible to succeed.

Other highlights of the budget include:

  • $48 million for state employee pay raises and compensation tied to performance and ongoing market adjustments; and
  • $36.5 million dollars for the Rainy Day Fund to bring it to $528 million.

The governor’s legislative agenda will be announced Tuesday.

The complete text of the governor’s speech and an archived video of his speech will be available at www.tn.gov/stateofthestate.

***

Complete text of the governor’s speech follows:

Lieutenant Governor Ramsey, Speaker Harwell, Speaker Pro Tem Watson, Speaker Pro Tem Johnson, Members of the 109 th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, Commissioners, friends, guests and fellow Tennesseans:

First, let me begin by assuring you that I don’t plan on making you listen to me give an address every week. There was the inauguration a couple of weeks ago, Insure Tennessee last Monday, and then tonight. I’m sure some of you are already tired of hearing me, so this will be the shortest State of the State speech yet.

Last week, the decision was made not to move forward with Insure Tennessee. However, that does not mean the issues around health care go away. Too many Tennesseans are still not getting health coverage they need in the right way, in the right place, at the right time. An emergency room is not the place where so many Tennesseans should be going for health care services. It’s not the best health care for them, and it’s costing us a lot more in the long run.

Health care costs are still eating up too much of our state’s budget and impacting the federal deficit and nation’s debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, if we maintained health care costs at their current levels, which we know are inflated, for the next eight years – just kept them flat – we’d eliminate the nation’s deficit. To do that, we can’t keep doing what we have been doing.

So, though the special session has ended, I hope we can find a way to work together to address those problems.

As we transition from the special session to the regular session, I look forward to continuing to work together on the important issues that face our state and our citizens.

This evening, I am here to update you on how we’re doing as a state and to present our administration’s budget. You will see in the budget that we are continuing to invest in the things that we believe in and that Tennesseans care about: education, jobs and a customer-focused, efficient and effective state government.

I stand here tonight to tell you that the state of our state is enviable in many ways. There are a lot of good things happening in Tennessee, and they’re being recognized in significant ways across the country.

Nearly 225,000 new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee in the last four years, and we hold the designation of “State of the Year” in economic development for an unprecedented second year in a row.

We lead the country in academic achievement gains, and we are the first state ever to promise that our high school seniors can attend two years at a community or technical college free of tuition and fees.

We have the lowest debt per capita of any state and among the lowest tax rates.

So, we have a lot of momentum to build on, and as I said several weeks ago at the inaugural, we’re not letting our foot off the gas.

The next four years also come with the reality that we will face the same budget challenges that we have faced in the past four years. Every year we have a limited amount of new money that is available from our revenue growth. That new money rarely keeps pace with our budget obligations and growing costs for education and health care. That’s why it is so important that our state has built a track record of fiscal restraint.

There are a lot of things that state government is responsible for and that we’re accomplishing that you may not know about. I still learn something new from our departments all of the time.

For example:

  • Our Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities’ state service delivery system is the very first to be accredited in the nation.
  • In the Department of Children’s Services, the Child Abuse Hotline took 140,000 calls and 80 percent of those calls were answered within 20 seconds, which exceeds national standards.
  • In 2014, there were fewer accidental fire-related deaths in Tennessee than in any year in recorded history.
  • Last year, Tennessee had the second lowest number of traffic fatalities of the past 50 years.
  • Average wait times in our driver services centers have dropped from over 32 minutes in 2011 to under 24 minutes in 2014.
  • Tennessee State Parks had 35 million visits last year.
  • The Department of Veteran’s Affairs serves about 10 percent of our state, more than half a million veterans and their dependents each year.
  • We are all concerned about prescription drug abuse in our state, and from the work of our Public Safety Subcabinet and legislation you’ve passed, the amount of narcotic pain medication prescribed in Tennessee is down five percent. And, doctor shopping is down 42 percent from its peak in 2011.

All that work starts with a state government that is up to the task. That means a customerfocused government that recruits, retains and rewards the best and brightest employees to serve.

Three years ago, we worked with the General Assembly to overhaul our outdated employment system. Because of that, we are now able to recruit, hire and promote based on who is best for the job, not who has been in line the longest.

Two years ago, we put $60 million in the budget to raise state employee salaries to be more in line with the market place.

This year, we are including $48 million in the budget for employee pay raises and market adjustments. That amounts to a three percent pool, but unlike in years past, those won’t be across the board. Pay raises and compensation will be tied to employee performance in addition to ongoing market adjustments. We have worked hard to bring employee salaries up to be competitive with the private sector. After nearly two years of implementing performance evaluations, it makes sense to take the next step to move toward rewarding employees like the private sector does – on their performance and results, not just on seniority.

As we continue to prepare for a changing workforce, we are doing all we can to give our commissioners the tools and flexibility to meet the needs of their departments.

We are going to be asking a lot from our employees as we move full speed ahead. I am grateful for the dedication of employees all across the state, and I’m excited about the opportunity to better recognize and reward them for their work.

As we talk about state government’s workforce, we are also making certain that Tennesseans are prepared for the workforce challenges of today’s global market economy.

There has been a lot of talk in this country about the income gap – about our shrinking middle class – and it’s no secret that Republicans and Democrats have some different views about the best ways to address that. But there is a truth that we all know and that we can all agree on.

The best answer of all involves creating opportunity for more people to be prepared for the jobs of the future.

If you take a two-earner high school educated couple and they both obtain college degrees, their income rises on average $58,000 per year.

Unfortunately, in our country, the escalator has stopped. In ranking the world’s countries by the percentage of the population with a degree, the United States ranked second in 2000. Today, we are fifth, and most disturbingly, we ranked 12th among the 25 to 34-year-old age group.

More Americans, almost 30 percent, have less education than their parents, than the 20 percent who have more education than their parents.

In Tennessee, we are doing something about that. Two years ago, we announced our Drive to 55 to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school up from 32 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025.

Last year, we introduced the Tennessee Promise – the very first state in the country to guarantee high school graduates two years of free community college or technical school.

This year, of our 65,000 high school seniors, 58,000 of them applied for the Tennessee Promise. Equally notable, 9,200 adult Tennesseans signed up to be volunteer mentors for those students. For the last 30 years, Tennessee’s greatest need has been for better trained workers who can fill the jobs that companies want to bring here. We think the Tennessee Promise is a game changer.

We know that access is important, but even more important is success. Not only do we need to get those students into school, they need to finish. That’s why the mentor piece of the Tennessee Promise is so important.

But we’re also going to include $400,000 in this year’s budget to establish the Tennessee Promise Bridge Program. It’s a pilot program to bring first-generation students to campus prior to fall enrollment. When nobody in your family has ever gone to college before, being there can be intimidating. This is one more step to make sure these students have the best chance possible to succeed.

It is also why our SAILS program is so important. SAILS gives students who need extra support in math that attention during their senior year in high school so they can avoid remediation when they enter college. We piloted the program two years ago, and the results speak for themselves.

Last year, 8,100 students were served by the SAILS program, and almost 70 percent of those students completed all remediation while still in high school. That saved families nearly $6.5 million in tuition.

This year we are including $2.5 million to sustain the success of the SAILS program.

But the reality is that just reaching high school graduates won’t be enough to reach our goal. In Tennessee, there are nearly one million adults with some post-secondary credit but without a degree. We have to figure out ways to reconnect those adults and remove the barriers that are preventing them from earning their certificate or degree, which will lead to a better job and future.

We are including $1.5 million dollars in this year’s budget for a pilot program – modeled after the Tennessee Promise – to provide last dollar scholarships to adults with some post-secondary credit to attend community college.

Also, beginning this fall, any Tennessee adult will be able to attend a Tennessee College of Applied Technology absolutely free.

The budget also includes nearly $2.5 million for statewide outreach efforts geared toward adult students, technical assistance to local communities that are finding ways to support adult learners, and a one stop portal for adults.

One group of adults that has shown a lot of enthusiasm on college campuses is our veterans. From 2008 to 2013, we saw an increase of nearly 200 percent of veterans enrolling in our colleges and universities. Our Veterans Education Task Force has been working to address the unique needs that our service men and women have when they come home and go back to school. Based on their report, the budget includes $1 million to set up competitive grants to 2-year and 4-year schools to develop initiatives specifically designed for veterans to be successful in earning a degree or certificate.

As we drive more students to our community colleges, technical colleges and universities, we are expecting more from our schools than we ever have before.

We are asking them to move full speed ahead too. We want to make sure they’re keeping expenses low and working to control tuition costs. We’re asking them to make sure they’re providing the right instruction and classes that lead to real jobs.

We know that we have a role to play in this process too. We’ve made education, both K-12 and higher ed, top priorities – both from a policy standpoint and through our budgets. This year is no exception.

In response to our schools’ new focus on success and completion, we will be investing $25 million to fully fund the Complete College Act formula.

The budget will also include $10 million to fund more need-based scholarships for students.

We’ve budgeted more than $260 million for higher ed capital. That funds new science facilities at Jackson State Community College and the University of Tennessee. It also includes nearly $25 million for improvements to our colleges of applied technology all across the state, and it includes the funds to complete the long awaited fine arts building at East Tennessee State University.

The reason we continue to make these investments in education is we want Tennesseans to have the education, training and skills necessary to have a good paying, high-quality job.

And we’re having a lot of success in attracting those jobs to Tennessee. Tennessee has become known around the world as a leading automobile manufacturing state. That’s good news because those are good jobs that bring a lot of other good jobs with them through the supplier network.

In the past, while companies might have trusted us to build their automobiles, they typically put their research and development efforts elsewhere. Today that’s changing, and more and more research and development jobs connected to manufacturing are coming to Tennessee. We want to be known as a state where employers can find the job skills that they need no matter what the skill level of the job might be.

If we are going to achieve the goals of the Drive to 55, then Tennesseans must first have a strong foundation through what they learn in elementary, middle and high school.

I truly believe that getting education right is critical to the well-being of our state – today and in the future. We have to keep going full speed ahead. We can’t afford to go backwards.

We’ve come too far to sell ourselves short. It would be an injustice to our students, to our teachers, to Tennessee families, and to ourselves.

There has been a lot of discussion about education, here and in schools and communities across the state. Most of the discussions have been around three things: state standards – what we will expect every student to know at every step along the way in his or her education journey; student assessments – how we will measure what students have learned through the year; and teacher evaluations.

Let’s start with standards. Standards are the foundational skills that students should know at different grade levels. For example, one of the kindergarten reading standards is to “demonstrate understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds,” which includes recognizing and producing rhyming words and counting, pronouncing, blending and segmenting syllables in spoken words.

We typically review education standards – like that one – every six years, but because of the ongoing conversation on a state and national level, we thought it was appropriate to take a fresh look at them now, after four years. It is important for us to realize that there are more than 1,100 standards for English language arts and more than 900 for math.

Back in November, we launched a website where Tennesseans can go to review and make comments on our existing state standards. This spring, the Southern Regional Education Board, an independent, third party organization, will collect the input from the website, which will then be reviewed and analyzed by six advisory teams divided up by subject matter and made up of Tennessee educators. Those teams will then make recommendations to two expert committees of educators, which will then propose changes to the State Board of Education.

If you haven’t visited the website, I encourage you to do so. So far, nearly 82,000 comments have been submitted. I expect that we’re going to talk about state standards this session, and I think it is important that we know exactly what the standards are that we’re talking about and possibly voting on.

To me, it doesn’t really matter what we call our standards. What does matter is that we have the highest standards possible. What does matter is that we continue to have high expectations for our students, teachers and this state. We can come up with Tennessee standards that allow our students to compete with anyone in the world.

Over the past four years, I’ve met with thousands of educators to get feedback on what’s going well in our schools and classrooms and what’s not. One thing I hear a lot is frustration about the feeling that their profession is treated like a political football. We have to give our educators more stability and certainty in their classrooms and not change the game on them session after session.

We’ve proposed legislation that specifically addresses many of the concerns I’ve been hearing from teachers including the alignment of what they’re teaching with our year-end assessment and having the Department of Education provide more information about the annual tests so they can better prepare their students every year. We are also proposing to make reasonable changes to teacher evaluations, and we’re focusing on overall improved communication and collaboration with educators.

We are asking more of our teachers and their students than ever before. And guess what? Teachers and students are rising up to the challenge.

By now, almost everyone knows that Tennessee is making impressive gains in academic achievement. I expect there will be a lot of discussion about education this session, and there should be. You’ve heard me say it before, but it bears repeating: There is nothing more important to our state than getting education right. That’s why in this year’s budget, we are proposing nearly $170 million more for K-12 education.

The budget includes nearly $44 million to account for growth in the Basic Education Program. While other states are cutting K-12 education, Tennessee continues to be one of the few states in the country to make significant investments. In fact, our state spending on K-12 education over the past four years increased at a rate more than double the national average.

We know that a big part of success is to have a great teacher leading every classroom. Just like with state employees, we want to recruit, retain and reward the best and brightest educators. A big piece of doing that is paying good teachers well. One of our goals in Tennessee is to not only be the fastest improving state in academic achievement gains but to also be the fastest improving state in teacher compensation. Tonight, I am pleased to announce that the budget includes $100 million for increasing teacher salaries. That amounts to a four percent pool that local education associations will have available as they make decisions on increasing teacher pay.

We are also including $5 million in the budget to create the Educators’ Liability Trust Fund to offer liability insurance to our teachers at no cost.

We will continue doing all we can to work with educators and support them as professionals who are shaping the future of our children and our state.

In this year’s budget, we have $300 million in new revenue to work with and $500 million in cost increases, primarily for education and health care increases. That’s why we have to try different approaches that will help us keep costs down while increasing quality and outcomes in health care.

Obviously, those increases have necessitated $200 million in cost reductions in other places. The cost reductions that we make are painful and involve hard choices but without making those hard choices in the budget, we simply could not keep producing a balanced budget every year. Since we’ve been in office, we have redirected more than $450 million so that we can keep funding our state’s needs while we are balancing our budget.

The reality is that’s not going to change. We are going to have to continue to look for ways to cut costs and reallocate resources. One of the things that we like the best about Tennessee is our low tax structure, but that also means that we have limited revenues to fund the programs and services that Tennessee taxpayers rely on.

That’s why we’ve worked to better manage our real estate and office space that results in real savings. That’s why we’re taking the next step to reduce energy costs and consumption across  our departments through our Empower Tennessee program. That’s why we work to maintain the low debt that we have as a state. By the way, continuing to pay off our debt this year means that we’ll spend $13 million less this year on interest than we did last year.

And, we’re going to make certain that we’re prepared for the future by continuing to strengthen our Rainy Day Fund. This year we will add $36.5 million to bring the total to $528 million.

After presenting our budget last year, there was a sharp decline in revenue collections, and we weren’t able to do some of the things we initially proposed in the budget.

Most of the drop was in our business tax collections. We’ve spent a lot of time working internally and with outside experts to analyze what happened.

Some of it is a result of the natural volatility of business taxes in general. Some of it was due to over collections in which reimbursements weren’t accounted for in the budgeting process. And some of it is that companies outside of Tennessee, but that do business in Tennessee, aren’t always required to pay the same taxes that our in state and homegrown companies do.

Through the analysis, we found that Tennessee has fallen behind other states in protecting our in state businesses from unfair competition from out of state companies.

To remedy that, we will file the Revenue Modernization Act, which aims to level the playing field in terms of sales tax and business taxes.

The bill also capitalizes on trends that we’re seeing in product distribution by creating an incentive for companies to use Tennessee’s distribution industry, which maximizes our state’s strengths.

We are committed to Tennessee remaining a low tax state. This proposal simply brings us in line to better compete with other states and to not put our in state businesses at a disadvantage, which we are doing today.

I understand, for all of us, there is a lot of work, demand and pressure that comes with being an elected official, but there is also something really special about serving our fellow Tennesseans.

As I look back on the past four years, it is pretty incredible all that we have gotten done in working together. In looking back, I also see how fast time goes by. That’s why we’re not letting up on the throttle these next four years. We have to go full speed ahead because there is still a lot of work to do.

After the Insure Tennessee vote last week, there has been a lot of speculation about what happened. Some people have asked me if it was a waste of time and if I regret bringing the proposal. The answer is no to both.

To me the work we do here shouldn’t just be about winning or losing. That’s what’s wrong with Washington. Every issue is cast in terms of political wins and losses. It should be about getting to the right answer, serving the people of Tennessee, and doing our part to make lives better.

Last week, I talked about coming here not just to make a point but to make a difference. It’s about looking for answers not just having an agenda. With great power comes great responsibility.

I was in Washington weekend before last for a series of dinners and events. There were a lot of people who are currently in power and more than a few who used to be in power and have moved off of the stage. Some of those who are no longer on the stage wished mightily that they could be back on it. Others were content to have played their role at their particular time. Regardless, it reminded me that we all have a shelf life. At some point, it will be our turn to move off of this stage and to move on from here. When that time comes, let’s be able to look back knowing that while we had the high privilege of serving here, we did everything we could to make Tennessee an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.

Until that time comes, let’s keep moving full speed ahead.

Categories
Press Releases

TN Recognized for “Noteworthy” Gains in Student ACT Scores

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 21, 2014:

NASHVILLE—Tennessee’s composite ACT score showed its largest gain in more than a decade, and increased more than it has since the state began testing all students in 2010, according to scores released today by ACT. Officials with ACT called the 0.3 gain “noteworthy.”

“Tennessee’s average ACT composite score growth of 0.3 is statistically significant and indicative of real academic progress,” said Jon Erickson, ACT president of education and career solutions. “A gain of this size is unusual and impressive – particularly for a state that administers the test to all students.”

Tennessee’s composite ACT score for public school students rose from 19.0 to 19.3. For all students, which includes those who attend private school, the average composite score increased from 19.5 to 19.8.

These gains correlate with recent academic growth in high school on the 2014 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP. For instance, proficiency in Algebra II grew nearly 6 percentage points over 2013, and more than 17 percentage points since the state began testing students three years ago. Nearly 50 percent of Algebra II students are on grade level, up from 31 percent in 2011. More than 13,000 additional Tennessee students are on grade level in Algebra II than when we first administered the test in 2011.

“These ACT scores show us that the work students and teachers are doing across the state is paying off, and will lead to real improvements for Tennesseans,” said Gov. Bill Haslam. “Offering two free years of college to the state’s high school graduates through our Tennessee Promise initiative is only successful if students finish high school ready for college. We must continue to make certain that happens.”

Richard Bayer, assistant provost and director of enrollment services for the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said this year’s ACT scores are encouraging.

“As an enrollment officer who views academic achievement levels on a regular basis, a 0.3 jump would be a very significant increase in measuring the academic performance level of an incoming freshman class,” Bayer said. “As a state, we should view the score jump as very significant and a testimony to our upward trajectory in preparing more students to be college ready for degree completion.”

Tennessee is one of 12 states that require all students to take the ACT. While the composite ACT score showed that all students grew, the 2014 results point to the continued need to close achievement gaps for certain groups of minority students; the average ACT composite score for Hispanic students was 18.0, and the average for black students was 16.4.

“Gains on the ACT—especially when they are historic for our state—are always encouraging,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “The hard work of teachers to implement higher academic standards is having an impact. But the reality remains that only 16 percent of our students graduate from high school prepared to take college courses without remediation. We must continue to press forward with improvements to our education system so we can ensure that our students are ready to take advantage of the opportunities that await them.”

Categories
Education Featured NewsTracker

Governor Selling Free College to High School Seniors

With summer winding down and school kicking off, Gov. Bill Haslam is on a statewide tour promoting the benefits of higher education to seniors who’ll graduate high school this year.

This week Haslam is traveling the Volunteer State  pitching his “Tennessee Promise,” a new program offering two years of community college or technical school free to any student interested. The governor says the initiative, which the state Legislature overwhelmingly OK’d last spring, is unique to Tennessee.

“Every Tennessean, if you graduate from high school, we will ensure that you can go to community college for two years — or to technology school — absolutely free of tuition and fees,” Haslam told a gymnasium packed with students at Red Bank High School near Chattanooga Tuesday.

This year’s deadline for sign-up is Nov. 1, Haslam said. The governor told reporters after the event that he’s still running into high school seniors who’re unaware the program exists, which is one of the reasons he’s out talking it up.

The Tennessee Promise is part of Haslam’s “Drive t0 55” initiative, which aims to increase the number of high school grads in the state with some form of higher education certificate to 55 percent — the percentage of jobs in the state that will require some sort of degree in about 10 years. Currently the number of degree-holding Tennesseans is at 32 percent, Haslam said.

“We’re trying to increase the whole spectrum of qualified candidates in the workforce in Tennessee,” he said.

The governor said big companies like Volkswagen and mom-and-pop shops alike have shared similar concerns with him about Tennessee — namely, that the Volunteer State needs to do a better job prepping skilled laborers for the job market.

Haslam noted to the students, though, that even though the two years of school they’re being offered is “free” to them financially, they’re going to be expected to produce results.

“Your obligation is to complete high school, fill out the financial aid forms, work with a mentor — which we will provide you, who will help you with all of that — and then perform eight hours of community service,” Haslam said.

According to the program’s website, Tennessee Promise is a “last-dollar scholarship, meaning it will cover college costs not met from Pell, HOPE, or TSAA.”

The money to fund the “last-dollar” program came from reserve funds from the Tennessee Lottery, initially created for the HOPE Scholarship, which was aimed at high-achieving students.

“It was helping some students, but not enough to where we could get to a larger percentage of Tennesseans having a degree,” Haslam said after the event. “So, we took some reserve money that had built up in the lottery fund, and used that to form an endowment. So, this is a promise, the money’s not going to go away, we’re only spending the interest off of that endowment.”

When the free tuition plan was announced earlier this year, there were some concerns that it could hurt four-year higher education institutions. However, Haslam said he’s confident the program will “increasing the size of the funnel opening” for kids to go to school.

More young adults headed to post-secondary institutes means more graduates, which translates to a better-skilled and better-educated workforce that’ll be more attractive to companies thinking about moving here, he said.

Haslam added that the trend he expected to see is students going to a community college for two years, and then continuing on to a four-year school.

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican and the sponsor of the legislation in the General Assembly’s lower chamber, told reporters after the event that the Tennessee Promise “is going to be the highlight of the governor’s first term,” and that he hopes to see it built-on over the next four years.

“It was the most important bill I believe I’ve ever moved,” McCormick said.

Categories
Education NewsTracker

Haslam Plan For Community College Prompts Questions

A plan by Gov. Bill Haslam to pay for two years of community college for Tennessee students has been met with questions over its potential costs and criticism that it erodes a successful scholarship program.

Haslam proposes to pay for the program, called Tennessee Promise, by setting up a $300 million endowment with lottery funds and reducing the amount freshmen and sophomores receive from the HOPE scholarship, from $4,000, to $3,000, while increasing the amount to $5,000 in the final two years of college.

In unveiling the program during his State of the State address, Haslam described it as “a bold promise” and said it would be the only such state program in the country.

“We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in the state of Tennessee,” Haslam said.

This year, in-state tuition and fees at UT Knoxville total $11,200 per year, not including housing. That’s about a fifth of the median family income in Tennessee, $54,700.

Under Haslam’s proposal, a student could enroll for two years at a community college courtesy of state taxpayers, then transfer and finish up a bachelor’s degree at a four-year school. The idea would be to make a four-year education less costly while giving students the same piece of paper from the same school.

The bill, filed last week, calls for proceeds above $10 million in the lottery fund to be transferred to a new endowment, with the earnings used to pay for the program. Presumably, the endowment could not be raided to pay for other lawmaker wish lists, but the Legislature would do well to make sure the purpose of any new fund is locked down tight.

A lawmaker who helped craft the state’s lottery scholarships has come out against the plan. Congressman Steve Cohen told the Tennessean that “high-achieving students beginning four-year degree programs” will end up with less money.

Questions remain, though. A recent WPLN story explored whether the funding mechanism is sound. Budget crunchers will have to predict the future costs of the program, the potential demand by parents and students, as well as the estimated savings from restructuring the lottery scholarship.

It’s also not known what effect a new incentive to head to community college would have on the costs at four-year schools in the state. With fewer freshmen and sophomores in lecture halls, would schools respond by trying to raise their fees faster than they would have otherwise?

The Chattanooga Times Free Press pointed out out that the lottery program itself ended up paying for less of the total cost of attending school over time:

At its peak, the maximum HOPE award covered about three-quarters of the average price of tuition and fees at public universities and community colleges in 2006-07. In 2012-13, the maximum HOPE award barely covered half of the average cost, according to a 2013 Tennessee Higher Education Commission report.

Haslam’s bill would incentivize scholarship students at the state’s four-year schools to finish on time.

Current law allows students to receive a HOPE scholarship until earning a bachelor’s degree or earning the number of semester hours for the degree — with funding also cut off five years after enrollment. The Haslam bill would cut off lottery scholarship funds at either 120 semester hours (15 hours per semester for four years) or completion of eight full-time semesters, whichever comes later. The bill would keep in place the five-year cutoff.

The Promise program follows other efforts by the Haslam administration to expand access to higher education, including a nonprofit, online college aimed at working adults and priced at $2,890 per full-time, six-month term.