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VOL. 36 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 14, 2012




Haslam plans no major changes for higher education

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that he plans no major changes to the state's public higher education system next legislative session and has yet to decide whether his administration will take the lead on a bill to create a school vouchers program in Tennessee.

The Republican governor told reporters in an interview in his Capitol office suite that he may propose some tweaks to the lottery scholarships and other changes for higher education but that he won't introduce legislation to reform the way the state's colleges and universities are managed.

"We could have couple components, but it won't be anything that fundamentally addresses governance changes or anything like that," he said.

Haslam last summer conducted a statewide series of roundtable discussions about ways to improve higher education, but said Tuesday those meetings weren't meant to signal an imminent overhaul.

"I didn't mean to say we would necessarily have something this year," he said. "At some point in time we could."

Areas under consideration for next session include creating more full scholarships for community colleges and adding online education opportunities, Haslam said.

The governor this year signed a law giving him direct control over the appointment of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission but said he's not considering personnel change at the agency that oversees the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents systems. Rich Rhoda has been THEC's executive director since 1998.

"It's like everybody else," Haslam said. "I'm not going to guarantee anybody they're going to be here forever, but we don't have any plans right now to make any changes."

Haslam added he is still evaluating his position on school vouchers, saying that a series of recommendations from a task force he appointed indicate that a series of questions about eligibility, accountability and finances that still need to b e answered before the program can take shape.

"Legislation will be introduced," Haslam said. "The decision will be whether it's ours, or whether it'll be that we just advocate a position once the bill is introduced."

A decision won't likely come before the end of the year, he said.

Haslam noted that while much time has been spent in the Legislature discussing charter schools and vouchers, traditional public education will continue to receive the bulk of his attention.

"The vast majority - 90 percent plus - of our students are always going to be public school systems in Tennessee," he said. "You're always going to see our primary focus be on that."

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