Tennessee senator and former governor Lamar Alexander held roundtable discussions on the JSCC campus Friday, May 29. The senator is currently heading up legislation that will update and streamline two current educational initiatives: No Child Left Behind and FAFSA (Free Application for Financial Student Aid).
The roundtable discussion had panels that were made up of local school officials and board members as well as state and local government officials. Those in attendance for the discussions included area parents, students and educators. The primary purpose of this forum was to give the most impacted parties by the proposed legislation an opportunity to hear first hand what is being proposed and to also give Alexander a true sounding board for these ideas and how they are perceived in the field.
The first topic entailed Alexander’s recommended changes to No Child Left Behind. The senator is proposing legislation that would revamp President Bush’s legislation, put an end to the common core discussion and rename the initiative as the Every Child Achieves Act. In essence, the act would give states the option of establishing educational standards for their own unique situations. The act would not abolish federal testing requirements, but it would give states the ability to devise a plan about how those standards are met.
For the second topic of discussion, Alexander explained how the FAFSA application is currently keeping a lot of students from receiving aid for which they are qualified and ultimately keeping a number of students from higher education. The former governor wants to greatly simplify the application and has even suggested that the form be reduced to two questions.
At the community college level, there are many first generation students that make up the population. Dr. Bruce Blanding, JSCC president, notes that the FAFSA application often becomes a roadblock to admission. “Many of the forms and procedures for matriculating into college are something that so many of us see as standard business for those in higher education. What we have to understand is that a lot of these processes and paperwork are completely alien to many first generation students. We lose a lot of them before they can even get started.”
Blanding also noted that Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Promise initiative will make it necessary to simplify many of these processes so that the economic goal of a well-educated workforce can be met. FAFSA is one of those critical points that may be keeping many students from getting a foot in the door.