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Gov. Haslam Gives 4th State Of State Speech

Gov. Haslam Gives 4th State Of State Speech

CREATED Feb 4, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A new education initiative proposed by Governor Bill Haslam will make it tough for graduating high school seniors in Tennessee to find an excuse not to further their education.

During his State of the State address Monday evening, the Republican governor unveiled a plan to allow them to attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology free of tuition and fees.

The plan is an addition to Haslam's "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.

"We will promise that he or she can attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology absolutely free," the Governor said during his speech.

Under the new proposal, graduating high school seniors will be able to attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology free of tuition and fees.

After graduation, students who choose to attend a four-year school will be able to do so as a junior.

It is a proposal that was met with applause from both sides of the aisle.

"Obviously the one statement any of us would ask here in the State of Tennessee, how do you pay for it. He is taking a portion of the lottery reserves and turning it into an endowment and we live off the interest of that," said Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey.

Haslam would use hundreds of millions of dollars from the state's lottery reserves to help fund the new initiative.

"And we have those funds, and we need now to put them to use. So I think this is a proper thing to do," said democratic State Representative Craig Fitzhugh.

Haslam's speech included details of his $32.6 billion state spending proposal and a rundown of some of his top legislative priorities for the year. His new education initiative was undoubtedly the highlight of his address, drawing praise from Republicans and Democrats, as well as state education officials.

Governor Haslam noted the state has $260 million in new revenue for the budget year beginning in July. However, $180 million will go toward costs to TennCare - the state's expanded Medicaid program - and $120 million is proposed for education.

Other items on the governor's agenda include creating prescription requirements to purchase large amounts of cold medications used to make illegal methamphetamine.

(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report.)