Published Online: January 4, 2010

Tenn. Governor Pushes Special Session on Education

Gov. Phil Bredesen on Monday began making his public sales pitch for an education overhaul that he wants to pass during a special legislative session that begins next week.

In a speech to the Rotary Club of Nashville, the Democratic governor said he expects bipartisan support for his proposals to improve what he calls the "educational pipeline."

The proposed changes in K-12 education include requiring teacher and principal performance evaluations to be based on data, to require tenure decisions to be made on those evaluations and to mandate annual teacher assessments.

"Making these kinds of adjustments will help improve the culture in our schools," Bredesen said.

Bredesen said lawmakers need to approve those changes by Jan. 19 so they can be included as part of Tennessee's application for a share of more than $4 billion in federal "Race to the Top" money.

Bredesen said Tennessee's chances at earning "hundreds of millions of dollars" from the federal government will depend on getting the changes approved by the application deadline.

"They made it very clear that what will count is the status of things on the 19th of January," he said. "They want to know if you have the legal authority in the state of Tennessee do these things when you file that application."

The governor acknowledged that "not everyone is happy" about his proposals, and that the teachers' unions in particular have raised questions about how student testing data is used.

"You have to have tools to evaluate those professionals," Bredesen said.

Bredesen is also proposing several changes in higher education, including changing the funding formula to emphasize graduation rates rather than enrollment. He also said he wants the state's community colleges to work together as more of a network than the current system that allows the two-year schools to operate more independently.

The higher education element could take last several weeks longer than the K-12 segment.

The Legislature last met in a special session in 2006 to take up sweeping changes in state ethics laws in the aftermath of the FBI's Tennessee Waltz bribery sting that led to the convictions of five former lawmakers.

Associated Press Writer Erik Schelzig wrote this report.

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