Tennessee celebrated victory in the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition Monday, becoming one of only two states to hit the jackpot in the first round of funding for progress in education reform.
Tennessee joined Delaware as winners, and federal officials said this state can expect $500 million as its reward for enacting school improvements. Delaware snagged $100 million. Forty states and the District of Columbia entered the competition.
“This is a landmark opportunity for Tennessee,” Gov. Phil Bredesen said Monday. “Our success in Race to the Top speaks to the commitment we’ve made to meaningful and significant improvement in public education, and the funds provided by the grant will carry us forward in a dramatic and positive direction.”
In announcing the grants, Education Secretary Arne Duncan credited Tennessee and Delware for "statewide buy-in for comprehensive plans to reform their schools. They have written new laws to support their policies. And they have demonstrated the courage, capacity and commitment to turn their ideas into practices that can improve outcomes for students."
Delaware and Tennessee have enacted plans to tie teacher pay to student test scores and to turn around their lowest-performing school. Tennessee adopted those reforms during a special legislative session in January, just before the Race to the Top deadline for applications. In addition, the education department said, both states have put in place strong laws and policies to support their reform efforts.
“Tennessee didn’t quite make the Final Four in basketball, but it made the Final Two in improving schools, which is more important," Sen. Lamar Alexander said. "Gov. Bredesen, the legislature and educators deserve credit for their leadership and vision."
Former Sen. Bill Frist, who now chairs the education reform group Tennessee SCORE, said: "Tennessee's Race to the Top win is cause to celebrate. For a state that's typically on the bottom rung of the national education rankings, it's remarkable that we now are at the leading edge of the national reform movement. The reality is: Tennesseans are tired of being 40th-something in our public schools. We're ready to lead."