Lawmakers pass higher ed proposal
Posted: Friday, January 22, 2010 9:41 pm
By LUCAS JOHNSON II and ERIK SCHELZIG
Associated Press Writers
NASHVILLE (AP) — Lawmakers on Thursday overwhelmingly passed Gov. Phil Bredesen’s plan for overhauling the state’s higher education system in an effort to improve Tennessee’s poor college graduation rates.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle said the measure is “about taking higher education to a higher place.”
The graduation rate at public four-year schools in Tennessee is 44 percent and just 12 percent at community colleges, and the state ranks 42nd nationally.
The Senate voted 32-0 to approve the plan early Thursday, and the House approved its version 93-2 later that evening.
“We’re starting the process of eliminating barriers to people getting educated,” said Kyle, D-Memphis.
A key element of the proposal will change the way the state pays for higher education by basing the funding formula on graduation rates and retention, rather than the number of students enrolled at a school.
Republican Reps. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga and Jon Lundberg of Bristol cast the lone nay votes.
McCormick said he couldn’t vote for the bill “because the funding formula is not clear to us yet.”
“It hasn’t been written,” he said. “And I’d like to see that before I’m comfortable with it.”
The measure also shifts all remedial courses from four-year schools to community colleges and automatically allows students with associate’s degrees to transfer as juniors to any four-year school except the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
“What we’re talking about is bang for the buck for the students, and in most cases the parents who are paying for their kids to be in school,” said Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville. “We will have truth in advertising that if you take a class at a two-year school that it ought to transfer to a four-year school.
Rep. Henry Fincher said he believes the legislation will “fundamentally increase the availability of higher education for Tennesseans.”
“As we go into this new century, education is the key to compete for jobs,” said the Cookeville Democrat. “And if we don’t have the education, we’re not going to get the jobs. This bill helps us get the jobs, because it gets us the education.”
The proposal was the second major piece of education legislation passed in a special session called by the Democratic governor.
Lawmakers last week approved a law that changes the way the state evaluates teachers and how it addresses failing schools. Bredesen called those changes key to Tennessee’s application for more than $500 million in federal “Race to the Top” money that was submitted on Tuesday.
Bredesen said he was pleased that lawmakers supported the higher education and K-12 proposals.
“I think it’s a huge step forward for the entire pipeline of education in the state of Tennessee,” he said.
Read SB7006 at http://capitol.tn.gov
Published in The Messenger 1.22.10