Senator Mark Norris
9A Legislative Plaza,
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0232
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©2017 Mark Norris
Governor Unveils Legislative Agenda In Annual State of the State Budget Address
Governor Bill Haslam presented his State of the State / Budget Address to lawmakers on Monday night as he and the General Assembly continue a multi-year focus on improving education and recruiting new and better-paying jobs to Tennessee. The governor unveiled major legislation to make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college. The Tennessee Reconnect Act would establish a last-dollar scholarship for adults living in the state which would allow them to attend a community college tuition-free.
In addition, the governor announced his proposed Tennessee STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act that would create a pilot program to provide eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard tuition funding toward a first-time bachelor degree through a tuition reimbursement program.
Both proposals build on the Tennessee Promise scholarship program which has provided tuition-free assistance to approximately 33,000 high school graduates since it was implemented in 2015.
The purpose of the legislation is to build and sustain the state’s robust economic growth and to make Tennessee’s workforce more competitive. In 2013, Tennessee launched its Drive to 55 goal of equipping 55 percent of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate by 2025. Tennessee needs 871,000 degrees to reach the state’s Drive to 55 goal, but only 645,000 high school students are expected to graduate between 2014 and 2022.
“We’ve made great strides in helping Tennesseans from all three grand divisions find meaningful opportunities with relevant training and education. The Reconnect Act and STRONG Act take those efforts even further. I’m proud to serve as the Governor’s sponsor and shepherd the legislation through the General Assembly,” said Norris about the initiatives.
The Reconnect Act, which is an expansion of a grant program launched in 2015, especially aims to attract approximately 900,000 Tennesseans who have earned some college credit but no degree. Adults without a certificate can already attend Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) tuition-free under the current Reconnect program. This proposal would expand that program’s access to community colleges and relieves some of the previous requirements to receive assistance. The Reconnect expansion would be funded out of lottery reserves at no cost to taxpayers.
Likewise, the STRONG Act would provide an opportunity for those who protect and serve their state and country to receive their bachelor degree, a move that would give Tennessee’s National Guard a competitive edge in recruitment. All but four states nationwide, and all states adjacent to Tennessee, already offer 100 percent state tuition assistance for those who are serving in the Guard.
Other highlights of the budget include:
Three New State University Boards Gain Initial Approval in Senate Education Committee
The Senate Education Committee adopted three resolutions this week confirming appointments to the University of Memphis Board, Middle Tennessee State University Board and East Tennessee State University Board. Passage of Senate Joint Resolutions 29, 30 and 32, all sponsored by Senator Norris, follows implementation of the Focus on College and University Success (FOCUS) Act adopted last year.
The purpose of the act was to better align the state’s postsecondary education by providing a sharpened focus on the governance of Tennessee’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology (TCATs), while granting four-year state universities additional autonomy to empower each institution to be successful in this new environment.
The new law, sponsored by Senator Norris, prescribed local boards for Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University and the University of Memphis.
“When I first came to the Senate in 2001, folks told me about the importance of the University of Memphis having its own independent board. I’m glad we’re finally seeing that through. The Board members that Governor Haslam has appointed are impressive members of the University community. They are well positioned through their own personal experiences to lead the University into a bright and prosperous future,” said Norris.
Appointees to the Board include Doug Edwards, David North, Carol Roberts, Marvin Ellison, Cato Johnson, Susan Springfield, Alan Graf and Brad Martin. The Boards’ confirmations will go before the entire Senate Monday evening.