Deadline for budget amendments passes, Rumors of concern over UT’s top capital priority

Lone Oaks AerialWith 140 budget amendments proposed in the Senate and 235 proposed in the House, there appears to be no shortage of ideas on how to spend a state revenue surplus that could easily reach half a billion dollars by the end of the fiscal year.   In recent months, indicators continue to point toward positive growth of major state revenue producers.

Governor Haslam’s proposed budget amendment is expected within the next two weeks.  Advocates will recall the Governor’s original budget proposal ranked the West Tennessee 4-H Center (also known as Lone Oaks Farm) second on the Governor’s proposed capital projects list.   In recent weeks, however, we have learned that there may be some legislative resistance in supporting this project, UT’s top capital priority.

We remain confident that the 4-H proposal will be adopted by the legislature.  As the situation continues to unfold, UT will take every effort to help ensure the project’s smooth passage and broad legislative support.  Please be on the lookout for more information on how you can help soon.

The West Tennessee region has been without a 4-H center since 2009, when the previous facility was closed and sold due to budget cuts and inadequate capital maintenance over a period of many years.

The offer of Lone Oaks Farm as a proposed replacement for the West Tennessee 4-H center came forth and was recommended through an exhaustive selection process last year.  The more than $30 million dollar facility is being made available to the University for approximately $16 million.  The 1,200-acre property comes turnkey-ready—educational programs, events and activities can be offered immediately.

Lone Oaks Farm will be used to teach youth about agriculture, natural resources, and other STEM-related subjects.  It will also be used to conduct educational workshops and meetings by industry and agri-business groups, something that is needed and could help spur economic development in the western part of the state.  The Center is expected to be self-supporting through the revenue it generates and will help fulfill a key part of the University’s outreach mission.

Legislation That Put TN Public Universities at Odds with NCAA Fizzles For Now

Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) again filed a bill this year seeking to pay student athletes at public universities upon graduation. Senator Reginald Tate (D-Memphis) served as the Senate sponsor of the legislation and sent the bill to General Subcommittee this morning.

Sending a bill to “General Sub” typically means the bill will not be heard unless the sponsor requests the bill be placed on a calendar sometime in the future.  The Senate Education Committee is currently considering their final calendar, meaning the legislation is most likely off notice for the remainder of the legislative session.

The bill essentially created a compensation system for graduating student athletes participating in NCAA Division I sports at TN public universities. It would have required athletics programs to set aside one percent of their yearly gross revenue beginning in 2016 for a ‘student athlete graduation grant fund’.  That fund would dole out awards up to $50,000 for Tier 1 athletes (football, track & field, basketball and baseball) and up to $25,000 for athletes in other sports.

The bill placed public Tennessee universities with Division I teams in direct violation of NCAA rules, rendering their student athletes ineligible to participate.

The University of Tennessee opposed the legislation.

It’s Back: Bill That Threatens Accreditation of State-Based Psychology Training Programs Added to Legislative Calendars, Vote Anticipated Soon

A bill allowing students in state university counseling, psychology, and social work programs to arbitrarily refuse treatment to certain patients has been put on notice in both the House and Senate, meaning lawmakers will likely be voting on the proposal in a matter of days.  New accrediting standards issued by the American Psychological Association make clear if such a change is adopted by the legislature, state-based psychology training programs will lose accreditation.

Such a move would be perilous.  Without accredited training programs at Tennessee’s public higher education institutions, access to care in the state over time will be significantly reduced.

The legislation is predicated on the false assumption that the practice of social work and psychological counseling is fundamentally about providing spiritual and personal advice.  This is simply not the case.

The professional practice of social work and psychological counseling involves the clinical application of treatment to persons irrespective of their spiritual needs.  The legislation permits a counseling student trainee to deny treatment to any client with whom they might claim to have a religious difference.  It should be noted that student trainees are made fully aware of the ethical codes governing the training programs at the start of their respective academic programs.  Yet, proponents of the legislation argue that the ethical codes that require counselors, including student trainees, to treat the clinical needs of all patients should no longer be recognized as reasonable guides.

Social Work and Psychology professionals have clearly defined scopes of practice and ethical guidelines adopted by national associations, which govern their respective professions.  The implication from proponents is crystal clear:  Professional obligation to provide clinical treatment, even through a state sponsored clinical program, does not apply if the client’s religious belief differs in any way from that of the practitioner.

Perhaps the greatest damage done by such legislation is the implication that emergency rooms, K-12 classrooms and courtrooms could be next.  Proponents argue that the accrediting associations such as the American Psychological Association, and by extension, the American Bar Association, or the American Medical Association, have no standing in Tennessee.  The bill, which some advocates may remember from last year, has the potential to compromise training and professional counseling programs at Tennessee public higher education institutions.

House Education Instruction and Program Subcommittee members are expected to hear the bill next Wednesday.  Check back soon for updates.

UT testifies on HOPE Scholarship change for ROTC cadets; Bill passes unanimously to full committee

Wednesday, the House Education Instruction and Program Subcommittee passed a bill that could change the way HOPE scholarship hours are calculated for ROTC students in Tennessee. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge), would address problems in the HOPE hours calculation that cause some STEM-major ROTC cadets to lose eligibility for the state-sponsored scholarship in their third year of study.

The issue arose in 2013 when the Army Cadet Command placed three Tennessee ROTC programs on the “cut list” because they were not recruiting enough STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors. The problem, however, could be traced in part to an issue with the state’s HOPE lottery scholarship program.

Currently, students lose HOPE eligibility after attempting 120 credit hours at a Tennessee postsecondary institution, but that causes issues for cadets enrolled in a STEM program such as engineering. Curriculum and graduation paths for students in that major are highly fixed and unchangeable. Therefore, those cadets cannot fold the hours to earn their commission through the ROTC program into their major or a minor, and some must take up to 140-150 hours to earn both their degree and commission. These students currently lose their HOPE money after 120 hours, leaving the student to make up the difference to complete their program of study.

Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) addressed the fact that ROTC cadets are often given a stipend as part of their participation in the program, but those funds are changing and not as plentiful as they once were.

Lou Hanemann, Associate Director for Higher Education Policy and Analysis, testified for the University of Tennessee, saying, “There is a stipend scholarship that is available for most ROTC students, but the reason those institutions were put on the cut list was funding concerns. The funding for those scholarships has begun to shift.”

The bill, fully supported by the University of Tennessee, would create an hours exemption for ROTC classes only.  It passed on a unanimous voice vote and will next be heard in the full House Education Instruction and Programs committee.  A companion bill in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville), will be heard in the Senate Education Committee.  We will post any updates on the bill’s movement as they become available.

Bill that Offers More Efficient Approach to Online Education Advances

Again this week, lawmakers advanced the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement Act (SARA), which authorizes the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) and public and private higher education institutions in Tennessee to join the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA).

Why is this important?  Currently, offering online programs in other states comes with tremendous administrative burden and cost.  By becoming a member of NC-SARA, the administrative burden and cost of offering online programs in other states is significantly reduced, providing a more efficient approach to offering online education. This week, the House Education Administration and Planning Committee unanimously passed the SARA bill, and the full Senate approved it on a 32-0 vote.  Next week, it heads to the House Finance Subcommittee.  UT is very supportive of the legislation as an efficiency and cost-saving measure.