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Tennessee named finalist in Race to the Top competition

Words like “pleased” and “excited” are being used by state and local leaders after Tennessee was named one of 16 contenders for a piece of $4.35 billion in competitive grants designed “to encourage and reward states that are pursuing education innovation.”
Locally, Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes said he is very excited about last week’s news that the state has been chosen as a finalist.
“We certainly wish the team traveling to Washington luck with their presentation,” Dykes said. “Not only will this impact Tennessee’s Department of Education if they’re successful, but it would also mean that $1.5 million [spread over four years] would flow into the Washington County Department of Education.”
Teams from the Round 1 finalist states will travel to Washington, D.C., the week of March 15 to make presentations to peer reviewers evaluating Race to the Top applications.
Winning states in the first round are expected to be announced in April, to be followed by a second round of competition later this year.
Applications for Race to the Top Phase 2 will be due on June 1 and winners will be announced in September.
President Barack Obama has also requested an additional $1.35 billion in the FY 2011 budget to continue the Race to the Top program for another year.
 Forty states and the District of Columbia submitted applications in January. In addition to Tennessee, the other states chosen in Round One are Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.
“Every school district that has signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ will now submit a plan of action showing exactly how the money would be spent,” Dykes explains. “Primarily, based upon Tennessee’s own concept, it will be for unique and innovative strategies to be used in the classroom, meaning those techniques that have been scientifically researched and proven to be successful.” He also says that staff development for teachers will also be another way some of the funding would be used.
Tennessee’s governor, Phil Bredesen, is also “very pleased” that the state is included on the short list for the first round of funding. 
“I believe that’s due to our shared commitment to making significant and meaningful improvements to K-12 education,” Bredesen said. “Tennessee is considered competitive in Race to the Top by national education reform experts because of the continued efforts we’ve demonstrated to public education reform. I want to thank the General Assembly, which adopted further landmark education reform legislation earlier this year with the support of the Tennessee Education Association and educators across the state. I have no doubt this was a significant part of our success.”