As President Obama announced his free community college plan in Knoxville on Friday afternoon, he was joined by top Republican lawmakers. But this doesn’t necessarily mean Obama’s proposal is getting bipartisan support.
Obama applauded Gov. Bill Haslam for implementing a statewide program, called Tennessee Promise, to pay community college tuition for all graduating high school seniors. The president also highlighted a similar initiative in Chicago.
“If a state with Republican leadership is doing this, and a city with Democratic leadership is doing this, then how about we all do it?” he said. “Community colleges should be free for those willing to work for it. Because in America, quality education should not be a privilege that is reserved for a few.”
But Sen. Lamar Alexander, who flew in with Obama on the Air Force One and just became the chairman of the Senate’s education committee, has already expressed skepticism. He said the decision to replicate Tennessee Promise should come from individual states, not the federal government.
Sen. Bob Corker expressed a similar sentiment to a TV station in Knoxville: “You’re always better off letting states mimic each other,” he said.
Obama’s proposal does give states the choice to opt in. Federal funding would pay for three-quarters of the average cost of two years of community college, leaving states covering the rest.
Haslam’s official written response was more vague than the senators’, though not particularly supportive either:
“Regarding the specifics of the president’s plan, we look forward to seeing more details in the coming days about the cost of the program and how it will be covered.”
President Obama also said Friday he would follow Tennessee’s lead by proposing to increase funding for technical training programs.