Haslam: ‘State of our state is enviable’

Published 9:21 am Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Haslam Quote

Touting advances in education achievement and job growth, Gov. Bill Haslam said during his State of the State address Monday night that it is important for Tennessee to keep moving “full speed ahead.”
“You will see in the budget that we are continuing to invest in the things that we believe in and that Tennesseans care about: education, jobs and a customer-focused, efficient and effective state government,” Haslam said. “I stand here tonight to tell you that the state of our state is enviable in many ways. There are a lot of good things happening in Tennessee, and they’re being recognized in significant ways across the country.”
Nearly 225,000 new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee during the last four years, Haslam said, adding Tennessee earned the “State of the Year” designation in economic development for an unprecedented second year in a row.
“We lead the country in academic achievement gains, and we are the first state ever to promise that our high school seniors can attend two years at a community or technical college free of tuition and fees. We have the lowest debt per capita of any state and among the lowest tax rates,” Haslam said. “So, we have a lot of momentum to build on, and as I said several weeks ago at the inaugural, we’re not letting our foot off the gas.”
Tennessee will continue to focus on improvements to education and economic development, Haslam said, adding as Tennessee continues to improve education for its residents more jobs will come because of the workforce training level.
“There has been a lot of talk in this country about the income gap – about our shrinking middle class – and it’s no secret that Republicans and Democrats have some different views about the best ways to address that,” Haslam said. “But there is a truth that we all know and that we can all agree on. The best answer of all involves creating opportunity for more people to be prepared for the jobs of the future.”
One of the changes being made to education, Haslam said, was the Drive to 55 initiative started in 2013, and the 2014 launch of the Tennessee Promise program, both of which are geared to raising the number of Tennesseans who hold a post-secondary degree or certificate. With the launch of Tennessee Promise, Tennessee became the first state in the national to guarantee high school graduates two years of free community college or technical school.
“This year, of our 65,000 high school seniors, 58,000 of them applied for the Tennessee Promise. Equally notable, 9,200 adult Tennesseans signed up to be volunteer mentors for those students,” Haslam said. “For the last 30 years, Tennessee’s greatest need has been for better trained workers who can fill the jobs that companies want to bring here. We think the Tennessee Promise is a game changer.”
While making post-secondary education more accessible for those just graduating high school is an improvement, Haslam said it is not enough.
“In Tennessee, there are nearly one million adults with some post-secondary credit but without a degree,” Haslam said. “We have to figure out ways to reconnect those adults and remove the barriers that are preventing them from earning their certificate or degree, which will lead to a better job and future.”
This year the budget presented by the governor includes $1.5 million in funding to create a pilot program modeled after the Tennessee Promise which will provide last dollar scholarships to adults with some post-secondary credit to attend community college.
“Also, beginning this fall, any Tennessee adult will be able to attend a Tennessee College of Applied Technology absolutely free,” Haslam said.
The proposed budget also includes more than $260 million for higher education capital projects, Haslam said, including the completion of the long awaited fine arts building at East Tennessee State University.
Continuing to focus on education will not stop at post-secondary programs, Haslam said, adding the state’s K-12 schools will have to provide students with a strong base upon which to build.
Much of the discussion on education on the elementary and high school level, Haslam said, has focused on three things: state standards, student assessments and teacher evaluations.
On the issue of standards, Tennessee is currently working to design the state’s own set of standards after dropping out of the national Common Core standards. The state is taking input from educators in the field and will work with an independent expert agency to develop the state standards.
“To me, it doesn’t really matter what we call our standards. What does matter is that we have the highest standards possible,” Haslam said. “What does matter is that we continue to have high expectations for our students, teachers and this state. We can come up with Tennessee standards that allow our students to compete with anyone in the world.”
The state is working to better align what students are being taught in the classroom with the year-end assessment tests and provide teachers with better stability by not changing requirements and standards every year, Haslam said.
As part of the proposed budget, Haslam announced additional funding to account for grown in the Basic Education Program for K-12 education.
“The reason we continue to make these investments in education is we want Tennesseans to have the education, training and skills necessary to have a good paying, high-quality job,” Haslam said. “I truly believe that getting education right is critical to the well-being of our state – today and in the future. We have to keep going full speed ahead. We can’t afford to go backwards.”
“We’ve come too far to sell ourselves short. It would be an injustice to our students, to our teachers, to Tennessee families, and to ourselves,” he added.
Haslam also briefly discussed last week’s failure of his Insure Tennessee initiative to expand Medicaid.
“Last week, the decision was made not to move forward with Insure Tennessee,” Haslam said. “However, that does not mean the issues around health care go away.”
Too many Tennesseeans are still not getting the health coverage they need and are having to seek non-emergency medical care through emergency rooms, he said. This results in the patient not getting the best care for themselves as well as higher costs for the state in the long run.
After the Insure Tennessee vote last week, Haslam said he was asked if he felt his efforts had been a waste of time or if he regretted the proposal, adding the answer to both questions was no.
“To me the work we do here shouldn’t just be about winning or losing. That’s what’s wrong with Washington,” Haslam said. “Every issue is cast in terms of political wins and losses. It should be about getting to the right answer, serving the people of Tennessee, and doing our part to make lives better.”
Every political career comes with a shelf life, Haslam said, adding everyone who serves in offices comes to a time when they must move off the stage and watch others take their place.
“When that time comes, let’s be able to look back knowing that while we had the high privilege of serving here, we did everything we could to make Tennessee an even better place to live, work, and raise a family,” Haslam said. “Until that time comes, let’s keep moving full speed ahead.”

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