Legislators Pass $32 Billion State Spending Plan: No Raises for State Employees, No Complete College Tennessee Outcomes Funding

The House and Senate passed the state’s FY14-15 budget this week as legislators rapidly approach the end of session.

According to an article by Knoxville News Sentinel reporter Tom Humphrey, House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) said that this budget marks the “first time in institutional memory” that the General Assembly has approved a state budget without adopting any amendments proposed by individual legislators.

Although they ultimately failed, legislators filed several amendments as attempts to provide some type of state employee raise as well as full funding for the Complete College Tennessee outcomes-based formula.

These amendments included ones filed by Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Rep. Mike Harrison (R-Rogersville), which appropriated over $20 million the Complete College funding formula if tax revenues rebounded.  These measures were ultimately withdrawn.

Simply put:  The budget, which now heads to the Governor’s desk, includes no state dollars for higher education employee salary increases or the outcomes-based funding formula for the coming fiscal year.  These items, although included in the original budget proposal, were removed primarily due to lower than anticipated state revenues.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission recommended in November that $29.6 million be provided to fund the Complete College formula to meet the production and outcomes successes of the top performing Tennessee higher education institutions.

Senators File Budget Amendments

The Senate Budget Subcommittee met last week to hear budget amendments filed by members.  The amendments, 154 in all, were voted on by committee members this week.

Below are the Senate amendments that would have impacted the University of Tennessee System.  None of the amendments passed, dying either from the lack of a motion or the sponsor’s decision to withdraw.

Senate Amendment

Senate Sponsor

Purpose

Recurring

Nonrecurring

11 Norris Funds the higher education funding formula from any excess revenue collections $20,310,200  
19 Burks Funds the higher education funding formula at THEC recommendation $29,600,000
28 Gresham Purchase of Lone Oaks Farm/TN 4-H Camp $50,000
72 Summerville Eliminate funding for UT Access and Diversity Initiative -$5,688,900
73 Summerville Reduce funding for UT University-Wide Administration -$1,000,000
119 Finney Supporting institutional missions at all academic formula units (THEC recommendation) $29,600,000

Governor’s Budget Amendment Released: Salary Raises, Higher Ed Increase Foregone

Governor Bill Haslam released his budget amendment Tuesday morning, cutting $160 million from his FY14-15 budget proposal and an additional $150 million in the current fiscal year.

The cuts, necessitated by an ongoing decline in state revenue collections, eliminate proposed new funding for higher education and pay raises for state employees.  State employees were originally slated to receive a 1 percent salary increase this year.

No doubt troubling for higher education leaders, the amendment represents the first time since the adoption of the Complete College Tennessee Act that no new dollars will be allocated to reward outcomes achieved by Tennessee’s public colleges and universities.  The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) had recommended a minimum of $29.6 million in funding towards that end.

The Governor’s original budget proposed that $13 million, representing the state’s portion of a 1 percent salary increase for higher education employees, be run through the Complete College outcomes-based funding formula in lieu of THEC’s funding recommendation.

Under the proposed amendment, higher education will receive no new dollars towards employee salary increases or the outcomes-funding formula for the coming fiscal year.

Tennessee Promise Scholarship Legislation Calendared

The House Education Subcommittee will hear The Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act of 2014 (HB2491) on Tuesday afternoon at 3:00 pm CST (Watch live by clicking here).  The Tennessee Promise, part of the Governor’s Drive to 55 Initiative, is a last-dollar scholarship proposal for Tennessee high school graduates seeking to attend a community college or Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT).  You can read more about the Tennessee Promise here.

The University of Tennessee supports this legislation, although some concerns have been voiced regarding enrollment at regional institutions such as UT Martin and UT Chattanooga.  In the House Finance Committee this week, President DiPietro voiced support for the consideration of “safety net” measures for regional four-year institutions who could potentially experience enrollment setbacks due to the migration of students to community colleges or TCATs.

House Finance Committee Hears Higher Ed Budgets

The University of Tennessee completed its final budget hearing this week before the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.  The University of Tennessee presented alongside the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Tennessee Board of Regents, and the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute.

Some interesting facts from the hearing include:

  • UT ​Knoxville produces more undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees than any other institute in the state.
  • UT Martin and UT Chattanooga have both increased their degree production this year.
  • Over half of the students at UT Knoxville have zero debt when they graduate.  (Overall, student debt has dropped 7.8 percent at UT undergraduate campuses over the last five years).

Tuition rates and future increases received considerable discussion at the hearing. “No one likes to raise tuition, but the reality of keeping [the UT system] moving in the right direction…necessitates resources,” DiPietro stated.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission recommended a 2-4 percent tuition increase earlier this year, a recommendation hinged on the expectation of full funding of the Complete College Tennessee Act (CCTA) outcomes formula.  Due to a difficult budget year for the state, the outcomes formula is funded at less than a third of THEC’s recommendation in the Governor’s FY15 budget proposal.

Although tuition is expected to increase, “it is a goal of the University of Tennessee System to stay within the single digit range,” DiPietro stated.

President Joe DiPietro also expressed support of the Governor’s “Drive to 55″ Initiative during the hearing.  The University of Tennessee System supports increasing access to post-secondary education, a critical component of the Governor’s plan.

When specifically asked about the Tennessee Promise, DiPietro called the proposal “a big bold program with a lot of merit.”  The Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar scholarship proposal for Tennessee high school graduates seeking to attend a community college or Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT).

DiPietro also expressed the importance of considering a “safety net” for regional institutions like UT Martin and UT Chattanooga, who could potentially experience enrollment setbacks due to the migration of students to community colleges or TCATs.