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News & Press: Policy Update

Policy Update: Literacy Bill, FAST Act, STRONG Act

Friday, March 6, 2020  
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Literacy Bill Moves Slowly 



      Governor Bill Lee’s bill addressing literacy (SB2160/HB2246) is moving slowly through the legislative process.  The Administration has already filed two successive amendments which have re-written the bill.  Although the amendments did not make significant changes, it does signal that the Administration is attempting to be responsive to concerns expressed by lawmakers and the community.

TICUA is generally supportive of the initiative but has flagged three areas of concern.  First, the bill identifies an aggressive literacy testing schedule but fails to identify who will pay for the exams.  TICUA has offered amendment language that makes it clear that all literacy exams will be paid for by the Department of Education.  Second, TICUA has requested rationale for requiring university faculty offering reading instruction covering the Kindergarten-Second Grade band to either have an active teacher’s license or take the literacy exam required of their students.  The bill outlines several areas of accountability for teacher preparation programs, so the licensing and exam requirements seem unnecessary and excessive.  Finally, TICUA has expressed concern over the bill’s provision to conduct a college cost analysis of teacher preparation programs.  If the study must move forward, TICUA is requesting that the analysis focus on net-cost and include state operational subsidies for our public university partners.  

The bill was heard on Tuesday in the House Curriculum, Testing, and Innovation Subcommittee but they failed to take action on the proposed legislation thus holding it in the subcommittee for another week.  TICUA testified before the subcommittee related to the above mentioned concerns. The Senate Education Committee has postponed hearing the bill until next week.





This past Wednesday, the House Education Committee unanimously passed the FAST Act (SB2097/HB2157) and voted to move it on to the House Finance Committee.  The Senate companion bill has been moved on to the Finance committee but has yet to be placed on a calendar.  Sponsors of the bill include Sen. Dolores Gresham and Rep. Gary Hicks.  The Tennessee Higher Education Commission drafted the bill which serves as a comprehensive update to several higher education programs.  Some of the key provisions of the bill include:

  • Aligns “program of study” student aid requirements with the Federal Title IV definition.
  • Simplifies terminating events for scholarship programs.
  • Defines an academic year for awarding student aid as Fall-Spring-Summer.
  • Removes loan management provisions for the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC).
  • Reduces the number of directors on the TSAC Board.  This includes the elimination of the Executive Director of THEC, commercial lender member, and the Chair of TICUA.  It retains the position for the TICUA President.
  • Phases out underutilized scholarship and scholarship-to-loan programs.
  • Broadens provisions for veteran participation in scholarship programs.
  • Cleans up residency definition.
  • Simplifies home school eligibility for scholarship programs.
  • Aligns foster care definitions with U.S. Department of Education.
  • “Non-traditional” student be defined as an independent student as determined by the  FAFSA. 



TICUA Student Email Campaign Continues



Students attending TICUA campuses from across the state are writing “thank you” emails to state legislators for the state funded student aid programs. To date, over 650 student emails have been sent to capitol hill. TICUA students benefiting from the Hope Scholarship and/or the Tennessee Student Assistance Award (TSAA) are encouraged to go to the TICUA website’s Action Center to send notes of gratitude for the financial support.  

During the 2018-19 academic cycle, students attending TICUA campuses received just under $60 million from the Hope Scholarship programs and about $26 million from the TSAA, the state’s need-based student aid program.  TICUA Chief Financial Aid Officers have been asked to encourage their aid recipients to go to TICUA’s Action Center and participate in the “thank you” email campaign.

STRONG Act Expansion


House and Senate Majority Leaders Rep. William Lamberth and Sen. Jack Johnson have introduced a bill (SB2177/HB2246) to expand and modify the STRONG Act.  The STRONG Act, which is administered by the TN Department of the Military, was passed in 2017 and provides student aid to members of the Tennessee National Guard.  Several TICUA campuses serve the Guard through this reimbursement program.  

The major provisions of the bill include:

  1. Adds colleges of applied technology to the list of types of institutions that are eligible for reimbursement;
  2. Extends eligibility for reimbursement to mandatory fees;
  3. Specifies that doctoral programs are not eligible for reimbursement;
  4. Clarifies that semester-hour equivalents, such as hours earned on the quarter system, are eligible for reimbursement, remedial course work is eligible for reimbursement, and hours attempted before graduating from high school or earning a GED are not eligible for reimbursement;
  5. Adds a requirement that a guard member must maintain a 3.0 GPA for reimbursement of tuition for a master's program. The GPA requirement will remain a 2.0 for undergraduate, vocational, or technical programs;
  6. Limits the number of master's degree program semester hours that are eligible for reimbursement to 40 semester hours;
  7. Limits the number of vocational or technical program semester hours that are eligible for reimbursement to 24 semester hours;
  8. Clarifies that only semester hours attempted for a guard member's first bachelor's degree and first master's degree are eligible for reimbursement;
  9. Authorizes reimbursement for 30 additional semester hours for a guard member who is enrolled in ROTC while attempting a first bachelor's degree or first master's degree; and
  10. Specifies that guard members who receive an ROTC scholarship must exhaust the benefits of such scholarship in order to be eligible for tuition reimbursement under the STRONG Act.

The bill should begin moving through the House and Senate committee system next week.