Published Online: January 15, 2010

Tenn. Gov. K-12 Plan Headed to Full Senate

Gov. Phil Bredesen's proposal to base up to half of teacher evaluations and tenure decisions on student achievement data is headed for a full Senate vote and is advancing in the House.

The Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed the measure Thursday. The Democratic governor has said it is key to Tennessee's chances of landing up to $485 million in federal "Race to the Top" money.

Tennessee currently uses no testing data to evaluate teachers.

The bill that advanced out of the Senate panel included several amendments, including the establishment of a fund for professional development of teachers and a measure to ensure funds are used properly.

"We've been working very closely to come to an end product that works for everybody and helps us get this money," said Education Commissioner Tim Webb. The federal application deadline is Tuesday.

The House Education Committee passed its version of the proposal 21-1 Thursday afternoon and sent it to the House Finance Committee — the final stop before a full floor vote.

Bredesen said he's optimistic the Legislature will approve the bill before the deadline.

"What I have done is talk with the speakers and the leadership of both parties," Bredesen told reporters after a ceremony to swear in Gayle Ray as the state's corrections commissioner. "They've assured me this is going to move forward, and it's going to get done."

Bredesen said he hoped both chambers could finish their work on the K-12 measures by Friday evening.

"Pushing this stuff back to the very, very final minute is a little nail-biting for me," he said. "If they could get it done (Friday), I would love them to do that."

Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said his organization's cooperation on the proposal should show the union is not just interested in "constantly defending the status quo," though he acknowledged some trepidation about the bill among teachers.

"I would be less than honest if I said all teachers are happy right now," he said. "But my response would be that there's a whole lot that they don't know yet, that there's a lot of good things in this bill."

House Speaker Kent Williams also backed off of an earlier suggestion that the Legislature wait to address Bredesen's separate proposals on higher education during the regular session.

"We're going to give it a shot," said Williams, R-Elizabethton.

The proposals include basing college funding on graduation rates instead of enrollment numbers, shifting remedial courses to community colleges and promoting dual enrollment at two- and four-year schools.

Bredesen said he has no interest in delaying the higher education bill until the regular session.

"I have called them into special session to deal with this, and I would like them to deal with this in the special session," he said.

Associated Press Writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this report.

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