Tennessee’s innovative workforce partnerships and game-changing education reform for skills which are in high demand has created a steady pipeline of qualified workers. It has led to Tennessee being ranked first in the South Central Region for workforce development, according to Site Selection Magazine.

Tennessee is leading the way nationwide in post-secondary education initiatives, including the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) program, Drive to 55 initiative, and the Tennessee Promise Scholarship program.

To expand access to vocational and technical training for Tennessee high school students, the Governor’s Investment in Vocation Education (GIVE) initiative, part of Gov. Bill Lee’s legislative agenda, was passed by the General Assembly in 2019. The GIVE initiative invests $25 million in competitively awarded community grants.  These grants fund regional partnerships between high schools, industry and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) to build new work-based learning/apprenticeship programs, market-driven dual-credit opportunities, and the expansion of industry-informed career and technical education offerings.

In 2013, the Drive to 55 initiative was launched aiming to bring the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or certifications to 55 percent by the year 2025. This initiative is not just a mission for higher education; it’s also a mission for workforce and economic development.

More than 88,000 students have enrolled in the Tennessee Promise Scholarship program, which commits to providing two years of community or technical college absolutely free of tuition and fees to graduating high school seniors on a continual basis. The first class of Tennessee Promise students entered school and the workforce training pipeline in 2015. Tennessee was the first state in the country to make this promise to Tennessee students and families.

All three of these post-secondary education programs make a clear statement to Tennessee families that education beyond high school is a priority. It’s also a promise to current and prospective employers that when you bring your business to Tennessee, you’ll have the support of a devoted and highly skilled workforce.

Promoting, Improving Foster Care, Adoption

The Joint Foster Care and Adoption Caucus had its first meeting Jan. 19 where lawmakers elected officers and organized business for the 2021 legislative session. The new caucus, which I am a member of, started work on an agenda to help improve the lives of children and youth who are in the care of the state of Tennessee.  

When children are not able to safely stay in their own homes and there isn’t a relative who can care for them, they often have to come into state custody. There are currently 8,140 children in foster care. The opioid epidemic has fueled an increase in the number of children entering the system and having parental rights terminated.  

Some of these children are victims of maltreatment, abuse and lack consistent relationships with caring adults. Unless permanency is established with caring adults, these children are statistically less likely than their counterparts to develop appropriately, be employed or obtain a high degree or post-secondary credential.

Commissioner Jennifer Nichols of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) who appeared at the meeting told members that 1,186 children were adopted in fiscal year 2020. DCS is promoting adoption awareness through educational events, such as Adoption is Love Week and National Adoption Month coming later this year.

Some of the issues surrounding adoption and foster care that could be considered this year include a bill clarifying court determination of a “child’s best interest” in adoption proceedings; legislation to provide financial aid for relative caregivers; a proposal to help prospective parents with financial assistance in the adoption process; proposed strategies to improve opportunities for youth in Tennessee’s foster care system by expanding college education assistance and supports; and a measure calling for eligibility for adopted children for Tennessee’s lifetime sportsman license.

The 28th District State Senate seat is held by Dr. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and includes Giles and five other counties.

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