Tennessee has not done a good enough job giving scholarships to poor college students, Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday morning. He hopes that soon will change.
In front of state representatives, senators and more than 100 students inside the Chattanooga State Health Science Center, Haslam signed a bill that will dedicate "at least" $35 million to scholarships for community college students.
The signing was one of two quick stops the governor made in the area Thursday. At another bill signing and media briefing in Cleveland, Tenn., Haslam announced a pair of grants dedicated to local energy programs.
For the scholarships, the money will come from a federal loan program to the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp. With the money, members of TSAC will develop standards for receiving the scholarships.
Then, students will apply for the scholarship through their community colleges. Haslam said that the state has not determined exactly how much money will be dedicated to the program, or exactly how many students will be affected.
The legislation to create the endowment -- House Bill 188 -- passed unanimously in the state House and Senate in March. Haslam said it will help his "Drive to 55" goal to increase the amount of Tennessee residents with postsecondary education.
"This endowment fits an important need," he said. "We're out saying, 'OK, 32 percent of us have a two-year degree at least, but we need 55 percent.' But for a lot of folk, they say, 'I'd love to do that; I just can't afford to do that.' This bill is a first step."
In Cleveland, Haslam announced a pair of grants amounting to $570,000 for the Ocoee Greenway Connector Project and installation of an energy-efficient roof at the South Cleveland Community Center.
The greenway project will receive a $495,978 transportation alternative grant through the Tennessee Department of Transportation toward creation of a 10-foot, ADA-accessible concrete path parallel to South Mouse Creek, connecting Ocoee Street to Tinsley Park on Keith Street.
"This will give North Ocoee neighborhoods direct access to the greenway and increase the quality-of-life benefits to the residents of Cleveland," Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said.
The South Cleveland Community Center will receive a $75,000 Clean Tennessee Energy grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to be used for an energy-efficient thermoplastic polyolefin membrane roof.
Energy savings are estimated to be $323,000 over a 20-year period, and the roof will result in a 90.2 percent reduction in carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen oxide emissions, officials said.
"We are very pleased that the Cleveland community is seeking energy-efficient ways to decrease emissions and reduce expenses at the local level," TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau said in a news release. "We continue to look for ways to promote environmental awareness and energy efficiency within Tennessee's communities."
Dan Rawl, owner of Cleveland Performance Center, took issue with Haslam's visit Thursday and placed spray-painted signs outside his business to say so. Rawl said city officials tore his signs down and challenged their right to do so on what he considered his private property.
"They violated my First Amendment rights," he said. "They operate up here with, they think, impunity."
Cleveland Councilman George Poe said Rawl's signs were in the right-of-way and City Manager Janice Casteel had the right to remove the signs.
"She's in charge of everything in the city," Poe said.
He said he was embarrassed to see a negative commented targeted at Haslam. "It was just too much," Poe sad.
Correspondent Paul Leach in Cleveland contributed to this story. Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@times freepress.com or 423-757-6476.