All seven major candidates for governor agreed to support Tennessee’s “Race to the Top” education reforms in hopes of the state picking up a share of $4.35 billion in federal grant money Washington is doling out over the coming months.
Each signed a letter of support drafted by Gov. Phil Bredesen’s staff requesting $501.2 million for the Tennessee public school system.
“Should our state succeed in the competition, we will continue to focus on education and work tirelessly to implement the reforms necessary to transform our schools and offer our children a better future,” read the letter (pdf, pg. 34) affixed with the signatures of the four Republicans and three Democrats.
After spending a week in a special legislative session, the General Assembly approved sweeping education reforms that include changing the way teachers and principals are evaluated and creating a state-wide school district to manage failing schools.
The changes were needed, according to Bredesen, to strengthen the state’s federal grant application.
The letter is “extremely important” to the state’s application, said Lydia Lenker, Bredesen’s press secretary.
GOP candidates include Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Congressman Zach Wamp, Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. Campaigning for the Democratic Party nomination are state Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter and former House Democratic leader Kim McMillan.
“Bottom line, it’s about continuity and commitment through the gubernatorial transition,” Lenker said.
The application, handed to U.S. Government officials Tuesday, could mean an influx of education dollars that would span past Bredesen’s term in office.
“We recognize the challenges in sustaining education reform across gubernatorial administrations and shifts in the legislature,” the letter stated. “If our state is successful in Race to the Top, it also must deliver on the proposed programs and investments in a manner that effectively spans the transition in January 2011 from the current governor to the next governor.”