NASHVILLE – Calling it a “landmark opportunity” for public education in Tennessee, Governor Phil Bredesen today signed into law two bills passed during this month’s special session of the 106th General Assembly that was focused on improving K-12 and higher education.
Joined by a bipartisan group of lawmakers – including Lieutenant Governor and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Kent Williams – Bredesen put his signature on the “Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010” and the “Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010.” The new laws enact a range of measures designed to spur improvement in Tennessee’s education pipeline – specifically, improving student performance and graduation rates at both the high school and college levels.
“With these new laws in place, we’ve now got a landmark opportunity to move Tennessee public education forward in a dramatic and positive direction,” Bredesen said. “I’m grateful to the General Assembly for its swift, bold action. And I’m thankful to the scores of teachers, parents, students, community leaders, business people, and public education advocates who worked tirelessly to lend their views and support.”
The Tennessee First to the Top Act makes several changes that have been discussed for years, but which became more pressing in order to make the Volunteer State more competitive in the federal Race to the Top initiative. Race to the Top provides $4.35 billion in competitive grants designed to encourage and reward states that are pursuing education innovation. Among other changes, the Tennessee First to the Top Act:
- Establishes an “Achievement School District” that allows the commissioner of the state Department of Education to intervene in consistently failing schools.
- Requires annual evaluations of teachers and principals.
- Creates a 15-member teacher evaluation advisory committee to recommend guidelines and criteria to the State Board of Education.
- Allows local school systems to create local salary schedules for teachers and principals, with state approval.
- Removes limitations on use of certain student-achievement data so the data can be used in making decisions on teacher tenure.
Meanwhile, the Complete College Tennessee Act – the product of nearly year-long talks with a bipartisan group of state lawmakers on how to improve college completion in Tennessee – makes several changes designed to enhance cooperation between colleges and universities in the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and University of Tennessee (UT) systems.
Among other changes, the Complete College Tennessee Act:
- Funds higher education based in part on success and outcomes, including higher rates of degree completion.
- Makes community colleges the centerpiece in Tennessee’s strategy by expanding common programs and common courses to promote consistency and quality across the two-year system.
- Creates a statewide transfer policy so that any student who earns a two-year degree at a community college can move on to a four-year university as a junior.
- Requires TBR and UT to establish dual-admission and dual-enrollment policies at all two- and four-year colleges and universities.
Tennessee’s college-completion strategies are a natural extension of K-12 education reform measures. Race to the Top places a premium on states that aren’t simply focused on getting kids through high school but also are looking at college enrollment.
“Combined, the new laws give Tennessee the ability to focus on our entire education pipeline in one panoramic view,” Bredesen said. “Together, they represent an important step forward in our ongoing effort to make public education Tennessee’s highest priority.”