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

The state’s Race to the Top budget is outlined, but lacks specifics on which contractors are hired for what work, and how each school will allocate its share of the money.

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.”

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