Gov. Bill Haslam says he is confident his plan to offer community college free of charge can pass the legislature, even though a similar proposal floundered seven years ago.
Haslam on Thursday said that the difference between Tennessee Promise, the proposal he outlined in his State of the State speech Monday night, and Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen's 2007 plan for free community college comes down to money — specifically, the availability of $300 million in surplus lottery reserves.
Haslam has proposed putting that money into an endowment to cover the $34 million-a-year cost of Tennessee Promise.
Haslam also announced Thursday the appointment of Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Over the past year, Boyd has spearheaded Haslam's efforts to promote college education.
Bredesen suggested using lottery reserves to offer free community college to all high school graduates who scored a 19 or above on the ACT exam. At the time, the reserve had exceeded $200 million. The proposal was defeated in the state Senate, which was controlled by Republicans.
Lottery reserves have since grown to more than $400 million. Haslam proposes moving all but $110 million, the amount required under state law, to a separate fund that already contains $47 million.
The Republican governor said he did not know specifics behind the defeat of Bredesen's idea but was confident Tennessee Promise could pass.
"I think it's different because of how it's being funded," he said. "It's not going to depend on what's happening in the budget that year."