NASHVILLE, (April 17, 2014) — The 108th General Assembly adjourned to become a part of Tennessee history with the state budget and education highlighting this year’s action. Although underperforming revenues limited the number of initiatives approved this year, the 2014 legislative session will be remembered for passage of several other important measures such as a ban on forced annexation, legislation to tamp down meth use in the state, numerous statutes to help crime victims, bills to protect privacy rights of citizens and a resolution calling for a constitutional convention of the states to balance the federal budget.
The last week of legislative action saw passage of landmark legislation providing Tennessee students with the opportunity to attend college by establishing the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act. Senate Bill 2471 provides Tennessee high school graduates with last dollar tuition assistance to fill unmet financial needs for tuition and fees so students may attend community college or college of applied technology free of charge. Students can then use the state’s transfer pathways program if they choose to attend a four-year school, making it possible to start as a junior.
The legislation also provides the opportunity for non-traditional students to return to community college or a college of applied technology free of charge through the state’s Tennessee Reconnect program. This program is an initiative aimed at helping adults earn a post-secondary degree. Similarly, the bill allows adults to qualify for the Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant, even if the student has previously received the HOPE Scholarship. To help students succeed, the bill has a strong mentoring component by incorporating the TN Achieves program, which is already available in 27 counties. This last dollar scholarship program provides students who might otherwise slip through the cracks in transitioning from high school to a post-secondary institution with mentors to help them succeed. The college retention rate for students in the TN Achieves Program is approximately 72 percent; whereas the HOPE scholarship program retains students at the rate of 47 percent.
In addition, the legislation provides for removal of the current 120-hour cap for HOPE scholars by extending the award to eight semesters. This is designed to provide HOPE recipients who are double majors or who participate in program like ROTC with flexibility so the student can receive the HOPE scholarship award for at least eight semesters or 120 hours, whichever comes last.