Legislators Pass State Budget, Includes UT’s Top Capital Priority

State lawmakers passed the State budget today, avoiding legislative attempts in the House to remove and/or reduce state funding for UT’s highest priority capital project, the West Tennessee 4-H Camp and Conference Center.

Rep. Tim Wirgau (R-Buchanan) introduced and then withdrew an amendment on the House floor seeking to strip state funding from the project.

Two weeks ago, UT Advocacy issued an “Advocacy Alert” on the new 4-H Center, asking advocates to urge their elected officials to support the project.  After an incredible grassroots response with over 7,300 communications to members of the General Assembly in support of the project, we are happy to report that the new 4-H Center passed with broad support.  To those advocates who took action:  We cannot thank you enough.  Your support made all the difference.

The State budget includes full funding of the State’s outcomes-based funding formula for public higher education, an increase in funding for non-formula units like the UT Institute of Agriculture, the UT Institute for Public Service and the UT Health Science Center.

The budget also includes:

  • Funding for a new science lab building at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville;
  • Capital maintenance funding for projects on all UT campuses;
  • $3 million in matching funds for the UT Pediatric Research Initiative;
  • $1 million in capital outlay to construct a new wind tunnel at the UT Space Institute;
  • $3 million in non-recurring funds to support UT-ORNL’s Advanced Manufacturing initiatives and supplement a $250 million federal grant in this area; and,
  • Authorization for a 1.5 percent merit pool salary increase for public higher education employees.

Lawmakers will return to the Hill next week to consider bills behind the budget before adjourning for the year.

Pledge to vote this election season

Election season is officially upon us:  Early voting for the state and federal primaries and county general election begins today and will continue until Saturday, August 2.

Voter turnout in state primary elections is typically much lower than in general elections.  Take 2012 for example.  Voter turnout for the primary reached just 18.6 percent.  In contrast, voter turnout for the general election reached 62 percent.

We think voting is so important that we are asking our advocates to join us in Pledging To Vote this election season.  We believe this is an important way to build awareness about one of our key responsibilities as American citizens.

Fill out my online form.
Online contact and registration forms from Wufoo.

Bills Impacting Student Fees, Campus Speakers To Be Pursued– UT Advocacy Alert Issued

A resolution directing the UT Board of Trustees to implement changes to the current assessment and allocation of student activity fees within the UT System was passed by the Senate Education Committee last night on a 7-1 vote, with Senator Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) voting no.

Sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Senate Education Chair Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), it was expected that the measure would take the place of two substantive bills filed by legislators—one that requires the allocation of fee money for speakers based on the membership of student organizations and another to ban any institutional revenues going towards speakers all together.

While Sen. Bell and Gresham’s resolution passed in yesterday’s Senate committee, it was made clear by Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) that legislation on student fees would still be sought.  “This [resolution] is just kicking the can down the road,” he stated.  Resolutions are “worth about the paper they are written on… They’re virtually worthless,” Campfield said as he laid the groundwork for further legislative action.

Senate Education Chair Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) agreed to calendar such legislation after hearing Campfield’s concerns, and both Senators Hensley and Bell indicated support for additional measures.

Both bills (SB1608, SB2493) sponsored by Sen. Campfield have been calendared for next week’s Senate Education Committee.

The resolution passed by the Committee last night (SJR626-Bell, Gresham) was agreed upon by legislators and University leaders and was sufficient enough to do all that can be done by the University to address legislative concern without violating the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

It includes a provision directing the Board of Trustees to implement an option for student fee-payers to “opt in” to the portion of the fee allocated to student organizations for student programming, and directs the Board and UT administrators to publish a list of all student programs funded by the fee.  It also directs the Board to consider ways in which transparency and accountability might be improved in the current fee allocation process.

One item in the resolution is specific to the Knoxville campus, directing the UT Board of Trustees to work with UT administrators in order to restructure the University Program and Services Fee Board (UPSF) to ensure a majority of non-student representation.  Under the resolution, the UT President will be required to report back to the Education Committee Chairs by January 1, 2015.

SJR626 is a good faith effort by the University to resolve legislative concern over student activity fees.   Please contact your elected officials and ask them to strongly oppose SB1608 (Campfield)/HB2378 (Lynn) and SB2493 (Campfield)/HB2450 (Matlock).  Click here to take action through the UT Advocacy e-Action Center.

SB1170: Sponsor Sensed Loss, Sought Plan B

In a Senate Education Committee meeting last night, numerous committee members and higher education leaders voiced concerns on proposed legislation that would authorize nationally accredited for-profit schools to sidestep existing regulations and award any degree of their choosing, such as an academic Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree.  After strong testimony highlighting the consumer protection side of the argument, it appeared that most members of the nine-person committee would be voting no on the bill.

To keep the issue alive and after conferring with proponents of the legislation, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), asked the committee to move the bill to a summer study.  The committee chair, Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), then recommended that the Higher Education Oversight Committee discuss the issue this summer.  The bill was then sent to General Sub, effectively stalling the bill for this year.

This avoided a roll call vote on the issue and allows the exact legislation to be revived next year.  The move was a strategic one by Sen. Campfield to keep the bill alive in the Senate.

Many UT advocates took time to contact their elected officials on this issue, and it generated widespread concern in committee regarding the bill.  We thank each advocate for helping protect the value of degrees from regionally accredited schools in Tennessee.  Of equal value, you helped keep important consumer protections in place for prospective students.

The legislation unanimously passed in the House Education Subcommittee one week ago.  The full House Education Committee has deferred action on the bill until Tuesday, April 9.

To view previous coverage on this issue, click here.