Rep. Watson: Capitol Hill Review

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - by Rep. Eric Watson
Rep. Eric Watson
Rep. Eric Watson

Earlier this month, House lawmakers joined with Governor Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell to help launch Tennessee’s new ‘Drive to 55’ education initiative. 

The event, which was held at the Music City Center in Nashville, was attended by educators, elected officials, and community leaders from across the state. The new program aims to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with some sort of college degree or certificate to 55 percent by the year 2025. Currently, only 32 percent of the state falls into this category.

The initiative will work hand-in-hand with the recent launch of Western Governors University Tennessee, an online school which seeks to expand access to higher education for all Tennesseans. Differing from most brick-and-mortar institutions, WGU Tennessee uses an innovative learning model called competency-based education. Instead of earning a degree based on credit hours or time spent in class, students must demonstrate their knowledge of required subject matter through rigorous testing procedures. 

This new program will help both traditional college students achieve success while also aiding those who now wish to go back to school to finish their degrees. As the state continues to move into the 21st Century, House leaders believe having these new opportunities available will help ensure Tennessee students are being prepared for the high-skilled and high-wage jobs of the future.

According to the 2010 Census, 1 in 5 Tennesseans over the age of 25 have some college but no degree—a number the ‘Drive to 55’ initiative hopes to change over the next 10 years. 

The new program also comes after House legislators wrapped up one of the most successful legislative sessions in Tennessee history earlier this year, with the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP)—the mechanism for funding public schools—being fully funded in this year’s budget. In addition, the budget provides additional education funding, including:

*   Increased funding for information technology upgrades at K – 12 schools statewide; 

*   Increased funding for need-based financial aid;

*   Funding for a new building at the Tennessee School for the Deaf; 

*   Continued funding for the state’s Science Alliance Museums, the Governor’s School and Family Resource Centers, the Arts Academy, and the Tennessee Holocaust Commission;

*   Increased funding for statewide equipment upgrades at community and technical colleges; 

*   And over $300 million for capital outlay and maintenance projects at public colleges across the state.

House lawmakers remain committed to helping improve the education system in Tennessee and will continue efforts during the next legislative session to provide teachers, administrators, and school staff with the educational tools needed to provide a high-quality education to all Tennessee students.

House leaders joined with officials from the Department of Safety & Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs during September to announce the addition of a new veterans designation for Tennessee drivers licenses. 

The announcement took place at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site in Nashville.

The new driver’s license designation is offered to any honorably discharged service member who presents a certified copy of their discharge papers, or DD-214, to any of the driver service center facilities located across Tennessee.

The primary purpose of the license designation is to allow the state to publicly recognize veterans for their time in service. The new license also serves as proof of veteran status for those who do not carry copies of their DD-214 papers with them on a regular basis. 

For more information about this new program which is now being offered statewide, visit http://www.tn.gov/safety/ or call the Department of Safety and Homeland Security at 615.251-5166.

Tennessee Moves Up In Forbes’ ‘Best States For Business’ 2013 Ranking 

Forbes magazine released its 2013 ‘Best  Business’ ranking this week, with Tennessee moving up the list to number 15, nine spots better than in the magazine’s 2012 ratings

The publication cited several reasons for the significant jump from last year, including Tennessee’s pro-business climate and top AAA rating from Moody’s bond agency—a major indicator that showcases our state’s stable fiscal environment. 

Additionally, Forbes cited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as among the nation's most visited and the fact that our state houses the corporate headquarters of FedEx, AutoZone, and International Paper.

This new ranking follows other recent accolades from organizations across the country, including being named the 4th best state in the nation for business by Chief Executive Magazine, placing as the 3rd best-managed state in the country by Barron’s Magazine, ranking 2nd in cost of living by CNBC, and being named the #1 state in the nation for retirement by Bankrate.com.

There is no doubt that in Tennessee, things are moving in the right direction. Through a strong partnership of the General Assembly and the hard work and dedication of Governor Bill Haslam, state government has been successful in coming together to attract job-creators, inspire entrepreneurs, and put Tennesseans back to work. While Washington and other states around the country are broken, Tennessee is truly doing things right.

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