Tennessee awarded $500M in federal education grant

Tennessee awarded $500M in federal education grant

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NASHVILLE (WATE/AP) - Tennessee received approximately $500 million in the first round of the U.S. Department of Education's "Race to the Top" competition, officials announced Monday.

The award is nearly what Tennessee sought in its January application for $501.8 million. The U.S. Department of Education will complete negotiations with Tennessee on its Race to the Top contract to finalize the award amount.

The money will be awarded over a four year period. Half of the money, $250 million, will be given to individual school districts.

Knox County Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre said the district is expected to get between $12 million and $13 million.

Dr. McIntyre says the money will target four main areas:

  • higher standards for students
  • Using data, like test scores, effectively
  • Creating great teachers and leaders
  • Turning around low performing schools

Dr. McIntyre says this will allow Knox County to implement parts of its strategic plan they may not have been able to do otherwise. He said specifically, he wants to see teachers rewarded for doing their jobs well.

The money is part of a $4.35 billion pot meant to encourage the use of innovative programs to improve student performance and transform struggling schools.

"This is a landmark opportunity for Tennessee," said Gov. Bredesen in a press conference 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," the governor added.

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale said, "I feel confident that Knox County will receive a significant share of these funds, which will be a tremendous help in our efforts to move from a really good school system to a great one."

Knoxville Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam said, "Through newly implemented standards that raise expectations for our students, a lessening of the restrictions on charter schools, major investments in Tennessee by national foundations, changes in the law that will improve the way teachers are evaluated, and innovative practices popping up all across the state, Tennessee has been building towards an opportunity to transform our schools and accomplish meaningful, lasting reforms that will benefit generations to come."

State Sen. Jamie Woodson (R-Knoxville) says 50 percent of the money goes to the state Department of Education and 50 percent will be distributed to local school districts.

"It is not to build buildings," Sen. Woodson says. "It is not for formula enhancement. It is truly to focus very cleanly and clearly on student achievement and the biggest area of that focus will be on teachers and our school leaders."

According to Sen. Woodson, each school district will submit applications to the state specifying how it intends to spend its share of the money.

Tennessee and Delaware were selected from 16 finalists announced earlier in March. Federal officials said Monday that Delaware received approximately $100 million.

The Race to the Top program requires states to advance reform in four areas:

  • Preparing students to succeed in college, the workplace and for the global economy
  • Measuring students growth and success
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, anTurning around our lowest-achieving schools retaining effective teachers and principals
  • Turning around lowest-achieving schools

Federal officials will collect a second round of applications for the highly selective grant program in June.

The states that weren't picked this time can reapply.

The money is part of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus law, which provided an unprecedented $100 billion for schools.

Some portions of this report copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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