By Steve Hunley

Governor Bill Haslam unveiled his “Tennessee Promise” plan in his State of the State address. Evidently, the governor had not previously shared his plan with the members of the General Assembly, as one could hear an audible gasp from the audience. That particular reaction is easy to understand, as the governor’s plan is a bold one.

In essence, students will be able to attend a college or technical school for free for two years. The money to pay for the plan will come from an endowment created from reserves from the state lottery. The “Tennessee Promise” will bring about some significant changes and rather quickly. Not only will it open the door to opportunities for thousands of young people who otherwise might not have furthered their education, it will help to create a better educated work force in Tennessee. It will also, whether intended or not, change the local educational landscape as well. It occurs to me that with thousands of new students pouring into colleges and technical schools, local preparation rates will have extra meaning. The current preparation rates in Knox County are abysmal. The highest is that for Farragut High School and it is only 40%. The lowest is Austin-East, which is 3%, although it has climbed from 1% a year ago.

Despite Superintendent of Schools Jim McIntyre constantly telling us there is some extraordinary learning going on in Knox County, the preparation rates – – – which one rarely hears about, not surprisingly – – – seem to diminish McIntyre’s cheerful chatter. If students have to spend the two free years taking remedial classes, that will speak volumes as to the effectiveness of local education. All of the evaluations in the world won’t whitewash that fact.

Some will carp that the minor changes in the formula for the Hope Scholarships will reduce their stipend by $1,000 per year, but considering the magnitude of the benefit to literally thousands, they should cease being so self-interested and think of the future.

Governor Haslam deserves the highest praise for this bold initiative. The Tennessee General Assembly should pass the “Tennessee Promise” as quickly as possible.