After promising more vocational education, Lee unveils his proposal for Tennessee

Declaring that high school needs to look different in Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee announced on Tuesday his legislative initiative to expand access to vocational and technical training for students who are soon to start college or career.

Called GIVE for short, the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education would support regional partnerships among schools, industry, and technical colleges to develop more work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities.

Lee also wants more funding to double access to dual enrollment programs for high school juniors and seniors who want to earn up to four credits from trade and technical schools. They currently can earn two credits that are paid for by the state.

“We believe GIVE is a key step for the future of our kids and ensuring we can fill the jobs of tomorrow,” Lee said in a statement.

If approved by the legislature, the initiative would be paid for with $25 million from the state’s general fund and up to $5 million from the Tennessee lottery.

GIVE is the first legislative initiative of Lee’s administration and would fulfill the Republican governor’s campaign promise to elevate vocational and technical education in public schools. With a degree in mechanical engineering, Lee operated his own employee training program at the Lee Co., a $250 million home services business in Williamson County.

“With GIVE, there is now a framework in place to partner with the private sector in addressing gaps in our workforce,” Lee said. “This initiative also puts students in charge of their future by preparing them for a good job right out of high school.”

Two grant programs would be established under the proposal.

Competitively awarded community grants would go to regional partnerships among schools, industry, and Tennessee colleges of applied technology to build new programs in work-based learning and apprenticeships, market-driven dual-credit opportunities, and the expansion of industry-informed career and technical education offerings at local high schools. 

The $25 million in community grants would come from a one-time state allocation serving as seed money for the program.

The lottery-funded student grants would pay for greater access to dual enrollment programs and would cost an estimated $3 million to $5 million.

The lottery already pays for three large college scholarship programs in Tennessee — HOPE, Tennessee Promise, and Tennessee Reconnect — but a senior official said the administration is confident that it will generate enough money to fund the student grants.

Rep. William Lamberth of Cottontown and Sen. Jack Johnson of Franklin are sponsoring GIVE legislation on behalf of the governor.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with cost and funding information.