Lawmakers Give Final Approval to Race to Top Bill

While lawmakers voiced various concerns about an education reform package meant to help line the state up for a big federal grant, the General Assembly put its final stamp of approval on it Friday just before 10 p.m. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

Although many lawmakers voiced concern about potential pitfalls, the legislature overwhelmingly approved the education reforms Gov. Phil Bredesen said he needed to better position Tennessee to compete for the “Race to the Top” grant.

The measure won 83-10 and was approved in the Senate 29-3. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

“As I said in Tuesday night’s speech, regardless of the outcome of any competition, this is the right thing to do for our children and our schools,” said Bredesen after the legislation was approved.

After a marathon of committee meetings digging into the legislation, members of both chambers remained on Capitol Hill until nearly 10 p.m. to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill before sending it to the governor.

“It might be our very last best shot at infusing some funds, some policy changes, into an educational system that needs some help,” said Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, who chairs the House Education Committee.

Lawmakers spent the week digging into the legislation after Bredesen, a Democrat, ask them to approve education reforms that could set the state up to win as much as $485 million in federal “Race to the Top” grant funds.

The U.S. Department of Education will reward a handful of states with the most innovative education reforms with a cut of $4.35 billion in federal grant money.

“I was very tempted to work and vote against this bill,” said Rep.  G. A. Hardaway, D-Memphis from the House floor. “I think the process was a little quick for anybody to get a good understanding and look at how this bill will impact the education community years down the road.”

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