General Assembly Finishes Its Work: Provides UT with Historic Funding Level

The Tennessee State Capitol Building at sunset.

The legislature completed its work for the First Session of the 111th General Assembly on May 2.  In a successful year for the University of Tennessee, the legislature fully funded the higher education performance formula that, when combined with other funding received, provided the largest state appropriation in UT’s history (over $643 million).

The state also funded the largest capital project in the UT Institute of Agriculture’s (UTIA) history, a new Energy and Environmental Sciences Building that will replace the current Ellington facility.  The annual economic impact from state industries requiring academic programming provided through the new facility reaches approximately $70 billion.  UT also received $10 million in safety and security funding for upgrades at all campuses.

Graduate Medical Education
A major success of the session was the inclusion of Graduate Medical Education (GME) funding in the Governor’s budget. This was a high priority of the University of Tennessee.  The GR&A team played a key role in advocating funding of the $3 million initiative that will draw down $5.7 million in federal funds (to total $8.7 million) to support more residencies in the State of Tennessee.  The move will increase the number of doctors in the State and access to health care in rural areas.

UT educates roughly 70 percent of the state’s doctors, and UT will receive a share of this new residency funding.

Sports Authority Legislation
UT was also successful in securing legislation designating public university athletics venues as “sports authorities” for the purpose of alcoholic beverage sales at special events.  The measure, sponsored by Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville), was recently signed into law by Governor Bill Lee.

The change will enable UT campus athletic facilities to attract more entertainment acts, which helps supplement the cost of their maintenance and operation.  The legislation also allows all the state’s public universities more latitude in determining alcohol sales during athletic events.

Passage of the legislation is anticipated to generate an additional $5.3 million annually in revenues across the UT System.

Online Sports Betting
Near the end of the session, sports betting legislation received final passage, allowing online betting in Tennessee on both professional and collegiate sporting events. The measure prohibits wagering by individuals younger than 21 years of age.

Estimated to generate almost $50 million annually in tax revenue, the lion’s share of revenues will go towards the state’s Lottery for Education Fund, which funds student financial aid programs such as the HOPE Scholarship.  Partial revenues will also go to help fund local government infrastructure projects and to help combat gambling addiction in Tennessee.

The legislation contains important language advocated by UT, Vanderbilt, the University of Memphis, and Middle Tennessee State University that seeks to lessen the impact on student-athletes and collegiate athletic programs.  The language:

  • Bans bets on individual college athletes;
  • Bans all proposition betting on college sports;
  • Broadens the list of those prohibited by law from sports betting to align with NCAA recommendations; and,
  • Establishes “insider-trading”-like provisions as it relates to sports betting.

Athletic Records Protections
With the recent overturning of a federal law prohibiting sports betting in the United States and the subsequent passage of sports betting laws in a number of states, the University initiated discussions with the House and Senate leadership, as well as representatives of the state’s open government coalition and press association, to narrowly define and exempt certain athletic records of public colleges and universities from the state’s open records law.  The legislature unanimously passed language that helps ensure the game integrity of college sports, as well as to protect the privacy and safety of student athletes.  The exemption will be reviewed again by the legislature in seven years as part of a broader agreement between the House and Senate leadership and open government advocates and organizations on exemptions passed since 2018.  The closure does not prevent investigative agencies and oversight bodies from having access to such records.

UT Board of Trustees Members Confirmed
Both House and Senate chambers voted to confirm new members of the UT Board of Trustees.  The Trustee confirmations include Decosta Jenkins, President and CEO of Nashville Electric Service; Alan D. Wilson, former chairman, President, and CEO of McCormick and Company; and Jamie Woodson, former State Senator and senior advisor to the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

The bodies also passed resolutions to confirm the campus advisory boards for UTK, UTC, UTHSC, and UTM.  At the close of the session, Governor Bill Lee had yet to make an appointment to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Trustee Lang Wiseman.  Wiseman resigned his trusteeship prior to being appointed Deputy Governor and Counsel to Governor Lee.  The vacant seat will likely be a “recess appointment,” which will require legislative confirmation within 90 days of the legislature returning in 2020.  The nominee must also reside in West Tennessee.

Access to Dual Enrollment
The legislature passed two measures aimed at expanding access to dual enrollment for high school students this session.

Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education Act

The Governor’s Investment in Vocation Education (GIVE) initiative, part of Governor Bill Lee’s legislative agenda, is a two-pronged approach to expand access to vocational and technical training for Tennessee high school students. The initiative invests $25 million in competitively awarded community grants that will fund regional partnerships between high schools, industry, and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) to build new work-based learning/apprenticeship programs, market driven dual-credit opportunities, and the expansion of industry-informed career and technical education offerings.

The initiative also provides additional lottery funding to high school juniors and seniors to utilize four fully-funded dual enrollment credits for trade and technical programs. Previously, high school students only had access to two fully-funded dual enrollment credits. The funding expansion will be given only to those students enrolling in programs that directly address workforce needs identified by the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) board of directors.

Dual Enrollment Course Increase

Bipartisan legislation presented as a “GIVE Act” addition passed this session, allowing high school students who meet certain academic criteria to enroll in and receive funding for two additional dual enrollment courses, for a total of three courses a semester. The legislation provides greater access to students interested in earning early postsecondary credits from universities or community colleges.  The legislation caps the total number of courses for which a student may receive a dual enrollment grant at 10.

Operational Cost Avoidance
As with each year, a number or legislative proposals were advanced that would have been unfunded mandates for the University of Tennessee or increased our regulatory costs.  Such “unfunded mandates” contribute greatly to annual tuition increases.  The University makes a concerted effort to avoid such legislation as part of a broader effort to keep increases low.

To this end, the UT Government Relations and Advocacy team collectively defeated or significantly amended legislation that would have financially impacted the University by over $11.9 million if enacted. This reflects 100 percent of the proposed legislation with a significant financial burden on the University.  Further, when considering the legislative initiatives secured by the GR&A team in 2019, the total financial impact of the work of the Government Relations and Advocacy team exceeded $20 million.

We thank you for your continued support this session and as we work toward an exciting agenda for 2020. Stay tuned for information on how you can help!