An alliance of Tennessee’s five largest school districts, which includes Metro Nashville Public Schools, is prepared to play a significant role in the state’s efforts to land coveted federal “Race to the Top” funds.
The Coalition of Large School Systems, or CLASS, made up of MNPS, Shelby County Schools, Memphis City Schools, Knox County Schools and Hamilton County Schools, was originally formed to lobby for a fair share of state dollars that are dished out to school districts through Tennessee’s Basic Education (BEP) funding formula.
Now after broadening its mission and tapping a professional lobbying firm, the group is hoping to work with the state to boost its candidacy in receiving a portion of $4.35 billion in federal funds.
In a letter addressed to Gov. Phil Bredesen and acknowledged at Tuesday night's MNPS Board of Education meeting, the coalition requests to meet with the state team crafting the “Race to the Top” application to “explore ways the state could leverage our collective strength to improve Tennessee’s position in the competition.”
The letter follows the coalition’s hiring of Southern Strategy Group, a government relations consulting firm comprised of several strategists who formerly worked in the Bredesen administration. The group bills itself as the “South’s largest lobbying firm.”
CLASS, which rotates leadership annually, is currently led by MNPS, with school board member Mark North and schools director Jesse Register taking the lead here in interacting with other coalition members.
“Race to the Top” dollars are made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which requires U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan distribute financial resources to 10 states that show a commitment to reform. Up to $400 million is believed to be available for each state.
Under the program, federal officials are to award states that show innovation in teacher effectiveness, school turnaround, data systems and standardized assessments.
The letter to Bredesen cites MNPS’s recruitment of well-known statistician Dr. William Sanders, known to many as the “father of value-added data,” who has now partnered with the district.
The collaboration with Sanders, the letter reads, is envisioned as a means to “develop a predictive analysis of every student using Tennessee Value Added Assessment data to help drive more effective instruction.”