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Guv Signs Charter School Expansion Into Law, Vows to Continue Education Talks with Teachers, Parents

For Immediate Release; June 15, 2011:

Haslam Signs Law Lifting Cap, On Opening Enrollment in Charter Schools

MEMPHIS – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today held a ceremonial signing of his charter schools bill, HB 1989/SB 1523 at Freedom Preparatory Academy in Memphis, legislation lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state and opening enrollment to more students.

The changes will make charter schools an option for more districts that seek to take advantage of this innovative tool and for more parents who seek educational options for their children. The initiative is part of his first legislative package that focused on continuing the state’s progress in education reform and ultimately geared toward Haslam’s first priority: making Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.

“Charter schools are a critical part of our mission to provide every child in Tennessee the opportunity to receive a great education, and with the national spotlight on the state’s education reform efforts, this is an important step forward as we continue to focus on growing and attracting high quality jobs to Tennessee,” Haslam said.

Main provisions in the charter schools legislation include:

  • Removing the 90-school cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Tennessee;
  • Removing the existing enrollment restrictions while maintaining the current system that gives preference to applicants who fall under the school’s focus area;
  • Allowing the state Achievement School District to authorize charter schools within the district’s scope;

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson (R-Knoxville), House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) and Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) sponsored the legislation, which passed both houses with bipartisan support.

As Haslam builds on momentum from the legislative session that includes in addition to the charter schools legislation, tenure reform and the ability for students to use lottery scholarships for summer school, he will join Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman in traveling the state over the coming months to talk with educators and parents to continue focusing on what has the most impact on children in our classrooms.

To complement his efforts in improving education and building a skilled workforce, he will also travel with Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty to continue focusing on creating and growing high-paying jobs by working with existing in-state businesses and recruiting new companies into Tennessee.

Education Reform, ‘Conservative Budget,’ Curbs on ‘Frivolous Lawsuits’ Top TNGOP’s List of Legislative Accomplishments

Press Release from the Tennessee Republican Party, May 23, 2011:

The 2011 Session of the 107th General Assembly adjourned Saturday, the earliest it has concluded in 13 years. It is calculated that taxpayers saved $450,000 in legislative expenses as a result. Republican control of both the executive and legislative branches of our state government brought about significant education reforms, a conservative state budget, and making Tennessee more attractive to businesses.

“This legislative session, Republicans are reaffirming that real leadership matters. Our Republican leaders have been committed to running a government that is both efficient and effective by setting clear priorities and addressing those priorities in a timely manner,” said Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney.

“With our Republican Governor Bill Haslam, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell working closely together, this General Assembly was able to tackle some big issues regarding our economy, education, and government spending – issues that are of great concern to Tennesseans,” said Devaney.

The accomplishments of the first session of the 107th General Assembly include:

Tort Reform- Legislators passed much-needed tort reform which curbs frivolous lawsuits, making our state more desirable to businesses to relocate and expand in Tennessee. This legislation was an important part of Governor Haslam’s agenda to eventually make Tennessee the number one location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.

Education Reform- The cap on the number of charter schools that can be created has been removed, allowing more students access to high quality education options. The state has accumulated nearly $40 million in investments to support new charter schools from “Race to the Top” funding and from the private sector. Tenure reform has increased the amount of time that an educator can obtain tenure, which gives schools greater freedom to get rid of ineffective teachers. A new “collaborative bargaining” initiative was a landmark move to ensure that every teacher has a seat at the negotiating table, allowing good teachers to be rewarded for their hard work.

Conservative Budget- The state budget was reduced by over a billion dollars compared to last year, while investing in key priorities and restoring $70.4 million to the Rainy Day Fund.

“I also want to commend Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, Senate Speakers Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson and Bo Watson, Republican Senate Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheney, and House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart for their steadfast leadership in shepherding these landmark pieces of legislation into law,” concluded Devaney.

Woodson-Sponsored Charter School Legislation Headed to Haslam

Press Release from the GOP Caucus of the Tennessee Senate, May 20, 2011:

(NASHVILLE, TN), May 20, 2011 – The State Senate approved major public charter schools legislation on Friday to create an environment that promotes the growth of high quality public charter schools in Tennessee. The bill is sponsored by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson (R-Knoxville) and was one of three education reform measures proposed by Governor Bill Haslam to improve student achievement by giving students the resources and opportunities they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy.

“Public charter schools are a critical tool to improve public education and provide every child in Tennessee the opportunity to receive a great education,” said Speaker Woodson. “This bill creates an environment that promotes the growth of high quality charter schools, allows districts access to innovative tools to address their unique challenges, and gives many more parents the option of sending their child to a school that better suits his or her needs.”

Key provisions of Senate Bill 1523 include:

  • Removes the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state
  • Allows for open enrollment in charter schools (removes eligibility restrictions while maintaining current system that gives preference to certain applicants and provides for a lottery system when applications exceed the number of seats available in the school)
  • Gives preference in the application process to proposed charter schools that demonstrate a capability to support certain high-need populations
  • Provides the Achievement School District with the ability to authorize charter schools within the district
  • Allows for appeal of charter revocation or nonrenewal to State Board of Education except when those decisions are based on the current AYP accountability guidelines for charters (maintains high accountability standards)
  • Removes “automatic repeal” provision so that there is no automatic sunset date on the charter law
  • Allows a local education agency to deny charter school applications if a local education agency demonstrates that opening the school would create a substantial negative fiscal impact that would be contrary to the best interest of their students, district or community.

Recently, Tennessee was awarded $40 million in investments to support new charter schools in Tennessee. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam and will become effective upon his signature.

House Skips School-Voucher Bill

Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, was moving right along with discussion of his school-choice legislation in the House Education Subcommittee meeting Wednesday when the panel’s chairman suddenly called for a 10-minute recess.

That recess turned out to be a Republican caucus meeting in the office of Speaker of the House Beth Harwell.

And when members returned to the hearing room, a couple Republicans — Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, and Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, chairman of the full House Education Committee — expressed their belief that Dunn’s bill ought to be sent to a summer study committee, an oft-used maneuver that puts an issue off for another day yet doesn’t kill the legislation.

The bill, HB388, the “Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act,” would allow low-income students in the state’s biggest cities — Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga — to be given a “scholarship” to attend a public school elsewhere in the district, a public charter school or a non-public school.

The bill passed in the Senate last week 18-10.

But in sorting through just who stood where on the bill, the word “comfortable” kept coming up in the House subcommittee discussion.

“I think if we go to the summer study committee, actually look at it, have the opportunity to bring in people from other states who have been shown the success of it, everybody gets more comfortable,” Dunn said after Wednesday’s meeting.

“That’s the key word down here. You may have all the facts on your side. You’ve just got to get people comfortable.”

Montgomery said during the proceedings if he had a better “comfort zone,” knowing what impact the measure would have on local school authorities, he could move forward with the bill.

When the Senate voted last week on its version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson of Knoxville abstained, saying she was “a little bit uncomfortable” with the bill because of unanswered questions about the impact on a district like hers.

Kelsey has said he is confident that “once the House studies the issue and feels comfortable with the issue they are going to come to the same conclusion we did in the Senate.”

It appears that in broad terms, state government is testing its own comfort level with where it is on education reform.

The Legislature has taken bold steps, enacting tenure changes for teachers, challenging teachers’ collective bargaining rights, considering lifting limits on charter schools and now entertaining one of the hottest potatoes of school reform — vouchers. It’s hard to see where the education reform train stops or if the concept might actually be slowing down given Wednesday’s move on vouchers.

At one point early in Wednesday’s hearing, during discussion of a bill on licensing non-traditional teachers, Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis, blurted out, “I think we’re doing too much reform around here. I think at the end of the year, all the bills will run into each other.”

Jerry Winters, chief lobbyist for Tennessee Education Association, added later that unionized teachers “are feeling pretty beat down right now.”

“This has been a tough session,”Winters said. “They feel pretty put upon. They feel pretty singled out. And they feel there’s a lot of punitive things happening that are not good for relationships.

“This legislature has burned a lot of bridges.”

Woodson to Join SCORE in July

Press Release from the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, April 14, 2011:

Education Leader and Senate Speaker Pro Tempore to Lead Tennessee-Based Reform Organization

(Nashville) – The Chairman of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced today that Jamie Woodson will lead the organization as President and Chief Executive Officer, following a national search for the position. Woodson, an attorney who currently serves as Speaker Pro Tempore of the Tennessee State Senate, will resign from the General Assembly at the end of the current legislative session to begin her new role at SCORE.

“Improving public education has been the hallmark of Jamie Woodson’s career in public service and her commitment to student achievement and growth has been remarkable,” Frist said. “As SCORE’s President and CEO, Jamie will not only lead one of the nation’s most innovative education reform organizations, but will have the unique opportunity to continue bringing about meaningful change for Tennessee’s children by working with educators, policymakers, philanthropists, business leaders, and parents.”

During her 12 years in the General Assembly, Woodson has helped spearhead Tennessee’s education reform efforts. She chaired the Senate Education Committee from 2005 until 2009, and during that time led successful efforts to overhaul the Basic Education Program (BEP), the mechanism for funding K-12 public education in Tennessee. In 2009, she sponsored key revisions to the Tennessee Public Charter School Act, resulting in more charter schools, expanded student eligibility, and increased statewide public and philanthropic support.

In 2010, Woodson served on Tennessee’s five-member Race to the Top pitch team, which helped secure the more than $500 million grant by demonstrating Tennessee’s commitment to reforming K-12 public schools to the U.S. Department of Education. Since then, she has chaired Tennessee’s First to the Top Advisory Council, a panel of national and state education experts that provides strategic guidance on implementation of the state’s landmark Race to the Top reforms.

“I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to lead SCORE at such a critical time for Tennessee,” Woodson said. “As a legislator, supporting and improving public education in Tennessee has truly been my passion. There is no higher priority for parents, school systems, and our state. While I will miss my work in the legislature, this new opportunity is a natural continuation of the work in which I have already been engaged, and gives me the opportunity to dedicate 100 percent of my efforts to improving public education in our state.”

Woodson’s first task at SCORE will be leading a strategic planning process to chart the organization’s future. This planning work, which will be supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will help define and expand SCORE’s ongoing activities in areas such as advocacy, policy, research, and technical assistance.

“Since launching in 2009, SCORE has done an excellent job of building and maintaining the case for meaningful education reform,” Frist said. “Looking ahead, we want to make sure the organization is properly positioned to support the work of state government and our local school systems. No one is better suited for this role than Jamie Woodson.”

Woodson will resign from the State Senate effective July 1, 2011, or at the close of business on the last day of the current legislative session, whichever comes first. Woodson will begin her work at SCORE at that time.

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with state and local governments to encourage sound policy decisions in public education and advance innovative reform on a statewide basis.

Woodson Leaving Senate to Lead SCORE

Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, an integral figure in historic education reforms in Tennessee in recent years, is leaving the Legislature to become president of SCORE, the education reform organization put together by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist.

Woodson, speaker pro tempore in the Senate, will formally leave the Legislature after the final day of the current legislative session, or on July 1, whichever comes first.

The governor will set a special election date for sometime in the fall, and voters in the district will pick a new senator.

Woodson will have the title of president and chief executive officer of the group formally known as the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. She replaces Brad Smith, who has joined the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

SCORE itself, while a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, has had a strong link to the reforms Woodson and many others have worked on legislatively in K-12 education, stretching from the administration of former Gov. Phil Bredesen to current Gov. Bill Haslam.

Woodson was chosen after a national search to fill the SCORE position.

She said Thursday she will not run for public office again.

“All the organization partners in public education are at the table and really focused on one thing, and one thing only, and that’s working diligently to make sure students are prepared for success in post-secondary education and the workforce when they graduate from high school,” Woodson said.

“It’s a big mission, but it’s a simple mission.”

Woodson, who has spent 12 years in the Legislature and is former chair of the Senate Education Committee, was involved in the intensive special session on education reform in January 2010, where the road was paved for the state’s successful application for the federal Race to the Top competition. She has also been influential in steering education reforms favored by Haslam in the current legislative session.

Woodson has served on the steering committee of SCORE since the organization began in 2009.

She said Thursday she will treat the new position much like the “odd commuter lifestyle” she currently has as a leader in the Legislature. Knoxville will continue to be home, she said. SCORE operates in the offices of the John Seigenthaler First Amendment Center on 18th Avenue South in Nashville.

“I will spend a good bit of time in Nashville, as well as around the state,” she said.

“I think the organization has been very relevant and important to the success that we have achieved thus far.”

Woodson said Haslam, former mayor of Knoxville, has been “very encouraging” about her new role.

“We have dreamed big about education reform for many years, well before he put his hat into the ring to serve as governor,” she said. “It’s something obviously that’s a priority to him, and he was very kind and encouraging.”

One of Woodson’s first tasks will involve strategic planning with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been heavily involved in philanthropic measures for public education in Tennessee. SCORE is funded by numerous individuals and organizations at the state and national levels that are engaged in improving student achievement.

SCORE issued a report recently, acknowledging strides made in education reform but continuing to emphasize the need for improvement, especially through sustaining a pipeline of leaders in public schools.

Frist has been the driving force behind the organization and brought instant credibility to the organization formed to focus on public education. He is chairman of SCORE.

“Improving public education has been the hallmark of Jamie Woodson’s career in public service and her commitment to student achievement and growth has been remarkable,” Frist said in a formal statement Thursday.

“As SCORE’s president and CEO, Jamie will not only lead one of the nation’s most innovative education reform organizations, but will have the unique opportunity to continue bringing about meaningful change for Tennessee’s children by working with educators, policymakers, philanthropists, business leaders and parents.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey issued a formal statement, saying, “Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson has been a pioneering and passionate advocate for education reform since the very beginning of her tenure in the Legislature.

“She has served her district and her state with a dedication I see in too few public servants these days. It has been a true honor and privilege to serve alongside Jamie, and I wish her all the best in this new phase of her career.”

Woodson said she will miss serving in the Legislature, but she sees a logical transition from one role to the next.

“There are so many things I will miss, first and foremost representing the citizens in my community in Knox County,” she said. “I knocked on my first door and asked a wonderful family for the privilege of serving them in the state Legislature when I was 25 years old. Several thousand doors later and many years later, I know I will feel like the work I will be doing with SCORE is a very natural continuation of that service.”

The nature of the new job has a strong appeal to her.

“There are so many things I love about what I do now, but the work I’ve had the privilege of doing in education policy has been the passion,” Woodson said. “The opportunity to spend a hundred percent of your efforts in your passion is a blessing. I’m really excited about it.”

Haslam Insists Tenure Reform About Improving Education, Not Punishing Teachers

The latest stop of the Republican locomotive on Capitol Hill came Thursday in the form of Gov. Bill Haslam‘s first legislative package, and like the Legislature, Haslam seriously challenged the status quo on teachers.

Haslam proposes changing the probationary time on teacher tenure from three years to five years, a step he said fits in with the overall goal of improving education in the state — which he says is a step toward the broader goal of providing a workforce that will attract jobs.

Haslam said that while the state is making progress on education reform, notably in its First to the Top initiative, it is not where it should be, and he’s convinced changing tenure is one way to improve the system.

His package came only a day after the Senate Education Committee voted 6-3 to advance a bill taking away the mandatory collective bargaining leverage teachers’ unions currently enjoy in 91 of Tennessee’s 136 school districts. That meeting drew a crowd of teachers opposed to the legislation, but it moved nonetheless.

The governor sounded keenly aware of concerns coming from the teachers’ corner but insisted on Thursday his moves are necessary to make Tennessee a more competitive state. In that same vein he has proposed tort reform measures that he says will also help the state compete against neighboring states for jobs.

Haslam addressed the media outside the office of House Speaker Beth Harwell, and the scene at Legislative Plaza gave the clear impression that all the reforms the Republicans are advocating are likely to be approved. Republicans are in charge of the House, Senate and governor’s office for the first time since Reconstruction, and there appears to be little the Democrats can do about it.

For his part, Haslam appears to be sticking to the script he articulated in his campaign for office. He has said his first priority is job creation, yet he never suggested a legislative package would be needed for that — only aggressive salesmanship to attract jobs. His second stated priority was education, and his first legislative package proposed removing the limits on charter schools as well as the tenure changes.

He said he hears the question of whether the state is just “picking on teachers.”

“I’d say it’s absolutely not true,” Haslam said. “What we’re doing across the board in education in Tennessee is raising standards.

“Nothing is more important than making certain we have great teachers in every classroom, and we’re going to continue to focus on that.”

Haslam said he wanted to make sure the state doesn’t continue to rank in the 40s nationally in education. He said there has been a lot of conversation with teachers across the state and that the discussions will continue. He said he plans to be with a group of teachers in Upper East Tennessee on Tuesday morning having “specific conversations about what we can do to help them in the classroom.”

Haslam seemed to have immediate support of members of the Legislature.

“I strongly support the governor’s tenure recommendations,” said Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, who is Senate speaker pro tempore and a member of the Senate Education Committee. “Making tenure meaningful is important, and I think it’s important to teachers.”

Woodson said it is helpful to step back and look at the overall education reform process, which began with a special session of the Legislature in 2010 that set the stage for Tennessee’s application for federal Race to the Top funds. Tennessee won $500 million.

“It’s moving student achievement in the right direction. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” Woodson said.

David Mansouri, director of advocacy and communications for SCORE, former Sen. Bill Frist’s education reform group, approved of Haslam’s recommendations.

“Research has shown that teachers are the most important factor in determining how much a student learns. Governor Haslam makes a critical step in addressing teacher effectiveness by focusing on reforming tenure,” Mansouri said. “The governor’s proposed package will make tenure decisions more meaningful by rewarding effective teachers and addressing ineffective ones.”

Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, has sponsored the House measure over teacher bargaining rights.

“I’ve noticed when you talk to the teachers’ union, no matter what you try to do, they don’t like it,” Maggart said. “That’s why I have this bill.”

Haslam’s package called for tort reform, a recurring issue, as Republicans seek to diminish the impact of trial lawyers where courts issue large sums in damages. He calls for a $750,000 cap on non-economic damages and a cap on punitive damages of two times compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.

“My opinion is that the trial lawyers have had a lot of influence for decades in the state of Tennessee and that it would be proper to review all the awards,” Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, the Republican House leader, said.

“I don’t know specifically what changes need to be made. But I think we certainly need to take a look at it, considering how it’s been out of balance for so many decades in this state.”

TBR Hearings To Be Continued?

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham isn’t entirely pleased with the way this week’s public examination of the operations, make-up and public relations savvy of the Tennessee Board of Regents’ came off.

For one thing, Gresham, R-Somerville, told TNReport Thursday afternoon that she was “perhaps irritated” Regent Agenia Clark didn’t show up during the two days of education committee hearings into the TBR’s controversies of late.

Clark, who chaired the regents’ “search committee” that recommended Deputy Gov. John Morgan as the best candidate to serve as chancellor to the board, was said by TBR vice chairman Greg Duckett to have a scheduling conflict.

Gresham, however, said Clark communicated nothing in the way of an excuse or reason for her absence with the committee ahead of time.

“I was very disappointed that Regent Clark did not make herself available,” Gresham said. “She was, after all, the chair of the search committee, and in that position could give us insights that no one else could.”

Gresham said she’ll talk with committee members and the Senate leadership “to see what our options may be.”

The committee spent Tuesday and Wednesday investigating Morgan’s selection to head the state’s higher education system, after criticism that the process unfairly favored him. Morgan was the only candidate interviewed for the job, and previous educational requirements for the job – which Morgan would not have met – were lowered.

Inside Higher Ed, an online journal of news, opinion and job listings covering colleges and universities in America, published an article titled “The Politician as Chancellor” back in August that outlined “a remarkable set of coincidences resulted in the state’s deputy governor getting the job.”

The article also quoted Clark, who reportedly “challenged the notion that the regents kept the applicant pool small to favor Morgan.” Wrote Doug Lederman, editor of Inside Higher Ed and author of the article:

(Clark) said she spoke privately to several strong candidates (including some more traditional ones) who were discouraged from applying because Tennessee’s strong open records law would have revealed their identities early in the process, putting their current jobs at risk. The same thing happened during the 2008-9 search that the board scuttled, she said, well before Morgan appeared on the scene.

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, made a formal request toward the end of the second day of hearings Wednesday to once again call Clark before the Senate Education Committee.

“She’s been the one that’s not here, and the one that carried out the most processes, if you will,” said Ketron, a vocal critic of the TBR’s activities of late. “The process is what we’re trying to get to: how we establish it and make it better from this point forward.”

But Duckett, the acting vice chairman for TBR, suggested that a committee interview of Clark — a no-show not just at the Senate hearings, but TBR functions in general “since the Morgan appointment backlash,” the Tennessean reported on Wednesday — would do little to reform the board’s practices and better its performance henceforth.

“If we are going to improve the system prospectively, then we need to look at procedures that will help us not be in this position in the future,” said Duckett.

Sens. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, and Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, sided with Duckett.

“It seems to me that why we are here is we have to figure out what we have to do going forward,” said Berke, who himself wasn’t in attendance during the committee’s Tuesday hearing. “And bringing in Ms. Clark, or having another day of hearings, or anything else, is not going to push us in that direction.”

“I do not see how trying to have more discussions and more days up here about the selection process that had a candidate that Lt. Gov. Ramsey called ‘highly qualified,’ that many of the people up here praise, is going to do us any good,” Berke said.

Ditto, said Woodson.

Gresham, growing perceptibly miffed as she spoke, responded that “criticism of these hearings as being a distraction from the real education issues” is wrongheaded.

Gresham expressed “grave concerns” about the judgment and transparency exhibited lately by the TBR — which she noted is responsible for “a $2 billion budget, $7.4 billion in capital assets and provides education opportunities for 200,000-plus students.”

“I kind of question the logic of saying we don’t need to go forward or have more hearings because nothing’s going to change,” said Gresham. “That is the same kind of logic that we heard: ‘Well there is no sense in having any other interviews because we know it is going to be this one guy.’ So, I don’t agree with that at all.”

New TN ‘First to the Top’ Website Omits Ongoing Spending Details

Tennessee won more than a half billion dollars from a high-profile federal education contest this year, but the state’s new website outlining reforms funded with those dollars lacks specifics on how the money will be spent.

Officials say information detailing exactly how the state and local school districts are using the Race to the Top education money will be posted to the state’s new ‘First to the Top’ website in October.

“Obviously, our goal is to have it be as transparent and informative as possible,” said state Sen. Jamie Woodson, a Knoxville Republican who sits on a committee overseeing the state’s new education initiatives. “Anything that we can do to increase transparency and inform the public about the implementation in process.”

Tennessee elbowed out some 40 states earlier this year when it became one of two winners of a highly sought after grant. The contest rewarded Tennessee with $501 million for promising to find ways to implement U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s education reforms.

Half of the money, which was funneled in from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, will be given to local school districts. Award amounts are dictated by the number of students they teach from low-income families.

The state will keep the other half and use it toward toward big-picture initiatives like facilitating a new teacher evaluation system or by assigning new management to failing schools.

Federal officials OK’d the state’s Race to the Top budget (pdf) earlier this summer, just two days before the end of the stimulus’ second quarter reporting period ending June 30, 2010, said Dana Coleman, a spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration.

The next set of spending reports is due in September and will be posted on the new website in October, Coleman said in an email.

“Race to the Top grants are part of the Recovery Act, so as federal reporting is done on the use of the funds, those reports will also be on this page,” said Coleman.

Tennessee’s 113-page budget outlines the state’s Race to the Top spending initiatives, but lacks data indicating which contractors are hired for what work and how each school will spend their share of the money.

“I really think it will be a great information tool, not only to know what’s happening, but also giving resources to families around the state,” said Woodson, last session’s Senate speaker pro tem and a member of the Senate Education Committee. “They can go to get more information and be a partner in this work to make sure our students are prepared for a global market place.”

TN’s Race to the Top Website Goes Live

State of Tennessee Press Release; Aug. 23, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee has launched a new First to the Top website to help keep Tennesseans informed about the state’s Race to the Top program implementation.

Located online at www.TN.gov/FirstToTheTop, the site includes Tennessee’s application and related documents, resources for educators, school systems and vendors, and details about First to the Top programs and projects. Visitors to the site can also subscribe to receive periodic updates about First to the Top implementation.

“The success of Tennessee First to the Top will depend on the involvement of educators, parents and other education stakeholders across the state and nation,” said Education Commissioner Tim Webb. “This is a four-year program that will allow us to build and implement a comprehensive roadmap for transformational reform for the entire state and the First to the Top website will be an important informational resource throughout that process.”

“Communication is key with First to the Top,” emphasized Senator Jamie Woodson, who chairs the First to the Top Advisory Council. “I’m pleased to see the website launch and view it as just one of many resources that will be utilized to inform parents, educators, community members and other stakeholders.”

View this release online at: http://news.tennesseeanytime.org/node/5790

Visit the First to the Top website at: http://www.tn.gov/firsttothetop/