Education Featured NewsTracker

Governor Selling Free College to High School Seniors

With summer winding down and school kicking off, Gov. Bill Haslam is on a statewide tour promoting the benefits of higher education to seniors who’ll graduate high school this year.

This week Haslam is traveling the Volunteer State  pitching his “Tennessee Promise,” a new program offering two years of community college or technical school free to any student interested. The governor says the initiative, which the state Legislature overwhelmingly OK’d last spring, is unique to Tennessee.

“Every Tennessean, if you graduate from high school, we will ensure that you can go to community college for two years — or to technology school — absolutely free of tuition and fees,” Haslam told a gymnasium packed with students at Red Bank High School near Chattanooga Tuesday.

This year’s deadline for sign-up is Nov. 1, Haslam said. The governor told reporters after the event that he’s still running into high school seniors who’re unaware the program exists, which is one of the reasons he’s out talking it up.

The Tennessee Promise is part of Haslam’s “Drive t0 55” initiative, which aims to increase the number of high school grads in the state with some form of higher education certificate to 55 percent — the percentage of jobs in the state that will require some sort of degree in about 10 years. Currently the number of degree-holding Tennesseans is at 32 percent, Haslam said.

“We’re trying to increase the whole spectrum of qualified candidates in the workforce in Tennessee,” he said.

The governor said big companies like Volkswagen and mom-and-pop shops alike have shared similar concerns with him about Tennessee — namely, that the Volunteer State needs to do a better job prepping skilled laborers for the job market.

Haslam noted to the students, though, that even though the two years of school they’re being offered is “free” to them financially, they’re going to be expected to produce results.

“Your obligation is to complete high school, fill out the financial aid forms, work with a mentor — which we will provide you, who will help you with all of that — and then perform eight hours of community service,” Haslam said.

According to the program’s website, Tennessee Promise is a “last-dollar scholarship, meaning it will cover college costs not met from Pell, HOPE, or TSAA.”

The money to fund the “last-dollar” program came from reserve funds from the Tennessee Lottery, initially created for the HOPE Scholarship, which was aimed at high-achieving students.

“It was helping some students, but not enough to where we could get to a larger percentage of Tennesseans having a degree,” Haslam said after the event. “So, we took some reserve money that had built up in the lottery fund, and used that to form an endowment. So, this is a promise, the money’s not going to go away, we’re only spending the interest off of that endowment.”

When the free tuition plan was announced earlier this year, there were some concerns that it could hurt four-year higher education institutions. However, Haslam said he’s confident the program will “increasing the size of the funnel opening” for kids to go to school.

More young adults headed to post-secondary institutes means more graduates, which translates to a better-skilled and better-educated workforce that’ll be more attractive to companies thinking about moving here, he said.

Haslam added that the trend he expected to see is students going to a community college for two years, and then continuing on to a four-year school.

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican and the sponsor of the legislation in the General Assembly’s lower chamber, told reporters after the event that the Tennessee Promise “is going to be the highlight of the governor’s first term,” and that he hopes to see it built-on over the next four years.

“It was the most important bill I believe I’ve ever moved,” McCormick said.

Press Releases

TN Opens 3 New STEM Schools

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 6, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Amid a national movement in education to better prepare students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), the Tennessee Department of Education announces the opening of three new STEM-focused schools this year. The new programs are part of the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network, a collaboration between the department and the Battelle Memorial Institute.

“STEM is an important part of our statewide effort to increase the rigor and relevance of our students’ education,” said Kathleen Airhart, Tennessee’s deputy commissioner of education. “Additionally, these schools will help to fill STEM jobs across the state, while improving the growth and sustainability of our local communities.”

Classes begin today at Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee, with 80 students in each sixth and seventh grades. The academy operates as a joint venture between Kingsport City Schools and Sullivan County Schools, with the support of Eastern Tennessee State University. The school plans to expand to eighth grade in 2013-14.

“The Kingsport City Schools are proud to be a partner in the creation of the region’s first STEM middle school,” said Superintendent Dr. Lyle Ailshie. “It is an exciting time for Kingsport and Sullivan County.”

The Southeast Tennessee STEM School, located on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College in Hamilton County, will open to students the following week, with 75 ninth-grade students. The high school will add an additional 75 students for its first three years.

The first class of students will get to name the school, design the logo and choose the mascot, a process that began in a summer STEM camp convened to introduce the students to each other and to the STEM style of learning.

“The Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub has helped us create strong partnerships with our regional businesses,” said Rick Smith, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools. “Business leaders are working with our teachers to create curriculum projects that reflect real-world business situations. This collaboration will not only enhance the students’ problem-solving and critical thinking skills, but it will also expose them to STEM career opportunities.”

The Upper Cumberland Rural STEM Initiative kicked off the school year in July at Prescott South Elementary School and Prescott South Middle School in Putnam County. As they transition to become the region’s first STEM program, teachers will be collaborating with the hub at the Millard Oakley STEM Center at Tennessee Tech University.

They will lead students on virtual field trips through the schools’ distance learning lab, and all students will receive iPads to access course materials and take notes.

“Our purpose is to provide our students with the opportunity to invent, discover, and develop themselves so they can move into the 21st-century workforce with the skills they need to be successful,” said Jerry Boyd, director of schools in Putnam County. “The Upper Cumberland Rural STEM Initiative is more than science, technology, engineering, and math. It is the integration of those skills and the development of critical thinking, both of which are required for students to achieve. We are excited to be working with the TSIN and all of our regional partners in this endeavor.”

About the TSIN

The initial TSIN funding for these schools was announced by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman in March. The TSIN, created by an Executive Order of the Governor and funded through First to the Top, comprises five Regional STEM Innovation Hubs and five STEM Platform Schools. A sixth hub and school are slated to open in West Tennessee in 2013.

Two TSIN hubs and schools have been operational for one year already: In Knoxville, the Karst STEM Innovation Hub and L&N STEM Academy; in Nashville, the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub and Stratford STEM Magnet High School.

The hubs are the nucleus of regional STEM activity, representing a formal partnership among school districts, post-secondary institutions, STEM businesses and community organizations, all committed to amplifying and accelerating the impact of STEM programs in their region.

About Battelle

Battelle is a research and development organization and one of the nation’s leading charitable trusts, focusing on societal and economic impact and actively supporting and promoting STEM education.

For more information, contact Kelli Gauthier at (615) 532-7817 or

Education NewsTracker

Schools’ Science, Math Programs Get $5 Million Boost

Gov. Bill Haslam Monday morning touted the state’s push for an increased focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education as a key step toward bringing more jobs to Tennessee.

The governor was at Stratford STEM Magnet High School to announce nearly $5 million in grants for three new STEM schools in Hamilton, Putnam and Sullivan counties. The grants will go to one existing school and two new schools, appropriating existing buildings.

“If we’re going to be the best location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs, the root of that is providing the trained workforce to do that,” Haslam said.

“STEM Academies are one of the key steps in making that happen,” he added.

Funds from the grants go toward equipment and supplies related to STEM subjects, as well as curriculum design and professional development and training for teachers.

Along with the STEM schools come hubs, which each consist of a public-private partnership between school districts and businesses and non-profit organizations to support the program in the area. STEM grants are funded through the state’s Race to the Top grant.

In 2010, Tennessee was awarded $501 million in federal tax dollars as a part of the Obama administration’s nationwide competition. The money has been used for a number of education initiatives on the state and local level.

State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman cited Tennessee’s lagging proficiency levels in subjects like reading and math, but described the STEM program as a chance to do more than just improve those numbers.

“Creating these hubs all across the state is the chance to spread excellence,” he said. “It’s the chance to say, we’re not just attempting to build stronger baseline skills, we’re attempting to create hubs of excellence and spread those kinds of best practices so that our kids truly can excel at a high level relative to kids all across the country.”

Press Releases

State Celebrates ‘Race to the Top’ First Anniversary

Press Release from the State of Tennessee; March 29, 2011:


Nashville, TN – Time flies when you are making progress. Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Education commemorated the first anniversary of Tennessee’s Race to the Top win at an education roundtable discussion today. Key stakeholders in winning and executing Tennessee’s First to the Top plan participated in the discussion by taking stock of the great progress Tennessee has made and recognizing the work yet to be done for the children of Tennessee.

“Race to the Top has made Tennessee the focal point of education reform in the nation, and I am thankful to those who worked so hard for this incredible opportunity,” Haslam said. “After a year we are in a position to bring real reform to our schools, and I am very encouraged about where we are and where we are going.”

Since being awarded upward of $501 million, the state and local school districts have begun executing a dramatic set of school reforms. At the heart of improving student achievement is a focus on three main student performance goals: young students’ academic readiness, high school graduates’ readiness for college and careers, and higher rates of graduates enrolling and succeeding in post-secondary education.The first year has been a combination of planning and successes, amongst these initiatives:

  • Re-engineering Tennessee’s accountability system, revamping tenure expectations in connection with a new teacher and principal evaluation system, and refocusing education opportunities through changes to charter school laws.
  • Establishing and emphasizing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education across the state through the focus of the STEM Innovation Network.
  • Renewing the focus on the classroom teacher and a more dedicated focus on encouraging student achievement.
  • Building support and creating success for students through increased professional development opportunities for educators such as Value-Added Data Specialists, formative assessment practices training, and online course availability.
  • Providing all with the feedback and support they need to succeed through increased engagement and communication.

“We all understand that we are still near the starting point of this process, and as we go forward, it is our responsibility to make certain we are moving toward better outcomes for students,” Haslam said. “Tennessee’s best long-term job growth strategy is to improve the education we offer Tennesseans and ensure they are prepared to compete in the 21st Century workforce.”

One year ago, Tennessee was one of just two states selected to receive millions of dollars for education in the federal government’s Race to the Top competition. Tennessee’s First to the Top plan is built on the strong foundation and commitment of key stakeholders, including elected officials, teacher’s union leaders, business leaders, and educators with the aggressive goal to improve teacher and principal evaluation, use data to inform instructional decisions, and turn around their lowest-performing schools. Tennessee’s complete Race to the Top proposal and other First to the Top accomplishments are detailed on the Tennessee First to the Top website at

Also, join the First to the Top education conversation on Twitter at or Facebook at

For more information, contact Amanda Maynord Anderson at (615) 532-7817 or

Press Releases

Bredesen Creates Science, Technology, Engineering, Math Education Council

State of Tennessee Press Release; July 29, 2010:

Bredesen Signs Executive Order Establishing STEM Innovation Network

NASHVILLE – Governor Phil Bredesen today signed Executive Order No. 68 establishing the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network. The Network is charged with promoting and expanding the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in K-12 public schools across Tennessee.

“Tennessee is home to many STEM assets, including world-class public and private colleges and universities and internationally known companies operating in fields as diverse as energy, health care and technology,” Bredesen said. “Our state is positioned to be a national leader in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math and this Network will help drive the development of the tools and resources that will help us realize those opportunities.”

Established as a project within the Tennessee Department of Education, the Network will conduct various STEM educational activities in coordination with local education agencies, including teacher professional development and curriculum development. The Network and its activities will be managed by Battelle Memorial Institute, a national leader in STEM education that partnered with the state of Tennessee in its successful bid in the federal Race to the Top competition.

The executive order also establishes the Tennessee STEM Advisory Council, which will advise the Department and Battelle on the operation of the Network. The advisory council will be made up of 14 members, including the commissioners of the Departments of Education and Economic and Community Development, and the chairpersons of the Senate and House Education committees.

The Governor will also appoint 10 additional members to the advisory council, including one member of the State Board of Education, one member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, one representative of the University of Tennessee, five representatives of STEM-related industries in Tennessee and two K-12 educators teaching in Tennessee public schools.

A copy of the signed executive order will be made available on Governor Bredesen’s Web site at:

Press Releases

State Enters Public-Private Education Partnership with Battelle

State of Tennessee News Release, Dec. 11, 2009:

Network to Focus on Science , Technology, Engineering & Math

MT. JULIET — Governor Phil Bredesen, joined by NASA Space Shuttle pilot and Mt. Juliet native Capt. Barry Wilmore, today announced a new public education partnership with the global research and development enterprise Battelle as part of Tennessee’s push in the federal Race to the Top competition for education innovation.

Under the partnership, Battelle, which co-manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in a joint venture with the University of Tennessee, will work with the state Department of Education and local school systems to establish a statewide network of programs and schools designed to promote and expand the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering, and math — or STEM — education.

The “Tennessee STEM Innovation Network” will be modeled in part on previous STEM efforts led by Battelle in other states, including its home state of Ohio. The new partnership comes on the heels of President Obama’s November launch of “Educate to Innovate,” a nationwide campaign to move American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade. Battelle is a “core partner” in the national campaign.

Bredesen, who majored in physics in college, said Tennessee already is well positioned thanks to a strong base of existing businesses, colleges and universities, programs, local schools and other organizations focused on 21st-Century innovation. With Battelle joining as a partner, he said, Tennessee can expand educational opportunities and better coordinate efforts for the benefit of teachers and kids across the state. Additionally, he said, Tennessee can create new STEM teaching and learning models that can be shared with the rest of the country.

“Battelle is a world-class partner with a track record of bringing innovative teaching and learning strategies into public schools,” Bredesen said. “We want to learn from their experience and make Tennessee the nation’s leader in STEM education.”

Joining Bredesen in making the Battelle announcement was Capt. Wilmore, a graduate of Mt. Juliet High School, Tennessee Tech University and the University of Tennessee, who embodies the importance of STEM teaching and learning to America’s future. The astronaut’s studies in aviation and electrical engineering laid the groundwork for a career that eventually led him to pilot NASA’s STS-129 Space Shuttle mission last month. Promoting STEM learning is a key priority in NASA’s public education efforts.

“Captain Wilmore represents the very best of Tennessee and the life opportunities that exist for kids who want to pursue science and math,” Bredesen said. “We appreciate NASA’s commitment to promoting STEM learning in America.”

“We applaud the state of Tennessee for its vision to enhance science and math education, and we look forward to working as a partner in this major public-private effort,” said Battelle’s Richard Rosen, Vice President, Education and Philanthropy. “Advancing STEM education is key to the future of our nation.”

Battelle has strong roots in STEM education. In August 2006, Battelle helped launch Ohio’s first STEM-based school, Metro Early College High School, on the campus of The Ohio State University. For the past two years, Battelle has managed the Ohio STEM Learning Network, a public-private partnership designed to foster and spread meaningful and sustainable innovations that change the way education looks and works. It has mobilized the support of 47 institutions of higher education, 81 public school districts, and more than 300 unique business and community partners. This fall, Battelle applied lessons learned from Metro High School to launch Delta High School in Richland, Wash.

As the world’s largest independent research and development organization, Battelle provides innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing needs in energy and the environment, national security, and health and the life sciences. Battelle conducts more than $5.2 billion in global research and development annually through contract research, laboratory management and technology commercialization. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Battelle is one of the nation’s leading charitable trusts focusing on societal and economic impact and actively supporting and promoting science and math education.

Detailed plans for Battelle’s involvement in the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network will be developed in the coming weeks. The ultimate scope of the network will hinge, in part, on whether Tennessee is successful in securing federal funds as part of the President’s Race to the Top competition. Regardless of federal dollars, Bredesen said it’s time for a new focus on STEM teaching and learning in Tennessee schools.

“In America and Tennessee, we have an obligation to improve our role in the global economy and create high-quality innovation jobs for the future,” Bredesen said. “Our new partnership with Battelle is a bold step toward making STEM a statewide and a national priority.”