Haslam announces plans to expand Tennessee Promise to adults

(Photo: WKRN)

Watch the full State of the State in the video below this story. Click here to see it from the News 2 app.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Governor Bill Haslam announced his proposal Monday night to offer all Tennessee adults without a degree access to community college tuition free.

Haslam said during his annual State of the State address that his plan would be of no cost to tax payers.

If passed, the Tennessee Reconnect Act would be the first in the nation to give high school students and adults the chance to earn a post-secondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees.

“Just as we did with Tennessee Promise, we’re making a clear statement to families: wherever you might fall on life’s path, education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be,” Haslam said.

He added, “We don’t want cost to be an obstacle anyone has to overcome as they pursue their own generational change for themselves and their families.”

It’s part of the governor’s Drive to 55 initiative, which aims to get 55 percent of the state’s residents with a postsecondary degree or certificate.

Monday night, Haslam said, “Tennessee needs 871,000 degrees to reach the goal of 55 percent… but mathematically there’s no way to reach that goal by only serving high school students.”

The governor also unveiled tonight the Tennessee STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act, establishing a four-year pilot program for eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard to receive a last-dollar tuition reimbursement toward a first-time bachelor’s degree.

The Reconnect and STRONG acts are the final two pieces of NextTennessee, Haslam’s 2017 legislative agenda aimed at building and sustaining economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.

Haslam also released his fiscal budget for the 2017-2018 year.

For a second year in a row, and the second year in Tennessee recorded history, the state budget does not take on any new debt.

Notable investments include:

  • $200 million to fund the Basic Education Program (BEP)
    • $100 million for teacher salaries
    • $22 million for English Language Learners
  • $77 million for state employee pay increases and market rate adjustments targeting high-turnover positions in state government
  • $132 million to bring the state’s Rainy Day Fund to an all-time high of $800 million, well on the way to the statutory guideline of $1 billion
  • $655 million in state dollars for maintenance and new buildings across general government and higher education
  • $135 million transferred from the General Fund to pay back the Highway Fund
  • $78 million for higher education and the Complete College Act
  • $15 million for career and technology education equipment
  • $11.6 million to fund more than 700 additional slots in the Employment and Community First CHOICES program
  • $9.5 million combined to expand substance abuse and crisis intervention treatment services and supports

Reaction to the governor’s proposals was mixed

“Employment, education ,economic opportunity, and enforcement of the law. This budget as proposed addresses all of those very important concerns,” noted Senate Majority Leader, Mark Norris (R-Collierville). “The question now is, whether folks are ready to invest in the future.”

Many democrats fear, education needs more attention in the coming year.

“There wasn’t a big plan for pre-k through 12 education,” said House Minority Leader, Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley). “We’ve made some strides in there, and we have some funding that we could go out, and do some things to help local districts.”

“The diversion of money from public schools, to private schools, are things that are gonna cause real pains for Tennesseans in the years ahead,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro, (D-Nashville).