NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP/WMOT) — Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his State of the State address to the Tennessee General Assembly Monday night.
The governor spoke for about 38 minutes. More than half of that time was devoted to the subject of education, including the introduction of a major new initiative.
Haslam is proposing to give a free community or technology college education to every graduating Tennessee senior who wants it.
The plan is an addition to his "Drive to 55" initiative, which seeks to improve Tennessee's graduate rates from colleges and universities from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025.
The governor says graduating high school seniors will be able to attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology free of charge.
“Tennessee will be the only state in the country to offer our high school graduates two years of community college, with no tuition or fees, along with the support of dedicated mentors.”
Haslam plans to use funds from the state's lottery reserves to help fund the new initiative.
Education was also a major focus of the minority response to the governor’s speech. House minority leader Craig Fitzhugh says, however, that Tennessee Democrats are focused on public primary education.
Fitzhugh panned the governor’s push for a voucher program, highlighted problems with the new Common Core educational standards, and pushed for more money for pre-Kindergarten.
“A recent Vanderbilt (University) study showed an 82% learning increase for students who had at least one year of pre-Kindergarten, compare to those who did not. Students across the country have shown the importance of pre-Kindergarten which is why Democrats have sponsored the “Education for All” initiative.”
Fitzhugh says the Democratic proposal would allow just over 7800 more Tennessee children attend pre-Kindergarten, funded primarily by federal dollars.