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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.

Corker Praises VW Decision to Build SUV in TN, Create 2K Jobs

Press release from the Office of U.S. Senator Bob Corker; July 14, 2014:

WOLFSBURG, Germany – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger were in Wolfsburg, Germany, today as Volkswagen CEO Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn announced that the company will build its midsize SUV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a more than $600 million investment in the region, which will add 2,000 jobs at the plant.

“I deeply appreciate Volkswagen’s significant long-term commitment to the hometown and state that I love,” said Corker. “I am grateful for Governor Haslam’s steady leadership, for our mayors, our great community leaders and the workers at the Chattanooga plant, whose commitment to excellence helped pave the way for today’s announcement. Finally, I am thankful to be able to help see this through to today’s conclusion.”

“One of the most meaningful days in my public service career occurred six years ago when I received the call from the Volkswagen board room that they had chosen Chattanooga,” added Corker. “Today’s announcement is a similar high point, as VW’s significantly expanded presence means that thousands of more families will benefit from the good paying jobs being created at the plant.”

Volkswagen will add an additional manufacturing line and create the National Research & Development and Planning Center of Volkswagen Group of America. Volkswagen’s total global investment for the expansion will be $900 million, with $600 million invested in Tennessee and 2,000 new jobs being created in Hamilton County.

The expanded plant in the Enterprise South Industrial Park will manufacture a new automotive line, a midsize SUV for the American market. Production of the new SUV will begin in the fourth quarter of 2016 with the first vehicle expected to roll off the new assembly line by the end of 2016. The expansion will also create the National Research & Development and Planning Center of the Volkswagen Group of America.

As mayor of Chattanooga from 2001-2005, Corker worked with officials and community leaders to develop the 1,200 acre Enterprise South Industrial Park, which is now home to Volkswagen’s North American manufacturing headquarters. Much of the negotiation that led to Volkswagen choosing Chattanooga occurred around the dining room table of Corker’s Chattanooga home.

Upcoming UAW Vote at VW Concerns TN Senate Labor, Commerce Cmte Heads

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 10, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn, (February 10, 2014) — The Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Tennessee’s Senate Commerce and Labor Committee today expressed concern regarding the United Auto Workers (UAW) upcoming vote in Chattanooga, saying a vote for organized labor would harm Tennessee’s reputation as a business-friendly state and reverse the state’s recent progress in automobile-related job growth.

Chairman Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Vice-Chairman Mark Green (R-Clarksville) said the General Assembly has worked in concert with Governors Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam for the past several years to move forward policies to support Tennessee’s competitive standing in growing and expanding new and better paying jobs in the state. The lawmakers said that pending decisions of VW employees are of statewide interest at a pivotal time when Tennessee stands currently as a national leader in job creation.

“We greatly value our auto workers, both in Middle Tennessee and in Southeast Tennessee,” said Senator Johnson, a businessman whose legislative district is home to the General Motors Spring Hill plant and Nissan’s North America headquarters.

“Our communities are very similar with great neighborhoods, schools that focus on achievement and a local economy that is envied by many. The automotive industry is a very important part of the quality of life we enjoy.” “As Chattanooga workers vote on the United Auto Workers presence, it is a decision that transcends just one community,” he added. “There is tremendous competition for job growth among states. A vote for organized labor would impede our daily efforts to benefit Tennessee families as we compete nationally in job growth. I ask that Chattanooga lead to honor Tennessee’s competitive spirit so we can continue moving our state’s job growth forward. Chattanooga workers, we don’t need the UAW in our state.”

“In business, reputation means a lot,” added Senator Green, who is a practicing physician and businessman who represents the more rural Clarksville region that competes with industry across the state-line of Kentucky. “Tennessee has developed a reputation of a top location for families and businesses because of the lower cost of living, commitment to an educated workforce and folks keeping more of our wages by holding taxes low.”

“Volkswagen chose our state and your community for important reasons: Chattanooga workers have a great reputation of a great work ethic and make an excellent product. That reputation has been yours without the United Auto Workers,” he continued. “The free market that VW chose in our state produces competition, empowers employees far more than a labor union, and keeps bringing jobs to Tennessee.” The United Auto Workers vote is scheduled for Wednesday, February 12 through Friday, February 14 at the Volkswagen site in Chattanooga.

TNDP: Haslam Displays ‘Do-Nothing Style’ on ‘Monkey Bill’

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; April 11, 2012:

The past few weeks Gov. Haslam has been chiding the media for paying attention to his party’s extremist social agenda instead of focusing on “real issues”.

Yesterday, Haslam had the perfect opportunity to show his leadership and seriousness by vetoing the unnecessary and backwards “Monkey Bill,” which would loosen science standards in Tennessee by injecting bias and false information into Tennessee’s science classes.

What did Haslam do with this opportunity to send a message to the legislature that we should be focusing on improving education and growing the middle class in this state? Nothing.

Well, not nothing, he sent out a fence-straddling letter saying he would neither sign nor veto the “monkey bill,” but instead let it pass without his signature. A perfect example of Gov. Bill Haslam’s do-nothing style of “leadership” in this state.

In a letter sent to legislators, the National Center for Science Education outlined why this bill would be bad for Tennessee (pdf):

By undermining the teaching of evolution in Tennessee’s public schools, HB 368 and SB 893 would miseducate students, harm the state’s national reputation, and weaken its efforts to compete in a science-driven global economy

Indeed, Tennessee should be moving forward towards strengthening our science education standards, not going backwards by loosening and weakening our quality of science education. This isn’t just a philosophical argument, Tennesseans were disappointed to see that Volkswagen in Chattanooga had to create a national recruitment campaign to fill skilled technical jobs at their Tennessee plant, in part because we haven’t done enough to promote science education in this state to meet the needs of a 21st Century economy.

If Haslam is serious about expanding our STEM capacity in Tennessee, he sent the wrong message to the nation and world about our seriousness about promoting progress and fostering scientific learning.