In order to emphasize the importance of Tennessee's coming bid for coveted federal Race to the Top funding, Department of Education Commissioner Tim Webb went before the Metro School board Tuesday night and outlined the grim future of education funding for the state.
In a presentation, Webb reminded the board that the state was forced to slash around $70 million dollars of discretionary funding — monies going toward programs such as extended contracts, after school programs, tutoring and intervention — in the last budget cycle, yet the impact of those cuts has yet to be felt.
“School districts across the state did not realize the impact of that simply because about the same time that took place we got stabilization monies under the stimulus package,” Webb said. “There is a sense of urgency around that money because it is only there for this year and the next school year.”
While those projects are buoyed by the original stimulus money, it's essential for the state to pursue Race to the Top funding, Webb said.
“Many of the things that need to be done, we can't sit back and wait for more revenue to do these kind of things if we want to compete,” he added.
The Race to the Top Fund essentially sets aside $4 billion that will be awarded to states. Webb said his office has learned Tennessee is in the Top 5 contenders for the funding, and could receive as much as $400 million for “opportunities to do new and innovative and very bold and courageous things that have never been done in public education in Tennessee,” he said.
The monies include funding for teacher incentive programs, data systems, and school improvement grants, among other programs, Webb said. If the state is awarded the funding, school districts will be forced to sign assurances and school boards will have to strictly monitor the funding while the state examines the effectiveness of the programs implemented with the monies, he explained. What those assurances would be or how the board would be asked to monitor the funding has yet to be fully determined.
Tuesday night was the first time the board had heard from the state on the bid for Race to the Top funding, according to school board chair David Fox.
“I was happy he laid out a few parts of the plan, this was our first time hearing this,” Fox said. “Ultimately, there will be a lot of collaboration between our school district, the state and perhaps others to come up with a with a coherent plan.”