Bredesen Announces Plans for Special Session on Education

Governor Phil Bredesen today announced plans to exercise his constitutional authority to call for a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly focusing on education, including both K-12 and higher education.

The special session will be set to begin January 12, 2010, to coincide with the start of the regular legislative session, placing education first on lawmakers’ agenda as they return to the Capitol.

Bredesen acknowledged this year’s tight budget environment but noted, “Sometimes the stars line up to create an opportunity that no one expected. And when you’re in public office, you’re obligated to seize the moment when that happens. This year we’ve had a couple of unique, unexpected opportunities drop in our lap that I believe will allow us to focus on the entire education pipeline in one fell swoop and hopefully make some changes that will be felt for years to come.”

The federal government’s Race to the Top competition is one of those opportunities, as states will compete for a share for more than $4 billion in Recovery Act funds. Race to the Top applications are due on January 19, 2010, and the U.S. Department of Education has said the states that will be the most competitive will be those that already have policy changes in place at the time of application.

The second part of the Governor’s call for a special session will involve higher education. “In 2010, it’s only natural that we focus on the entire education pipeline as we look to create a more skilled workforce,” said Bredesen. “As we all know, it’s not just about getting kids through high school anymore. It’s also about students completing their degrees or certificates so they can get high-quality jobs and have a decent quality of life.”

Among changes Bredesen will call on lawmakers to consider is modernizing the state’s funding formula for higher education to make it substantially based on performance, such as higher degree completion rates.

The Governor urged lawmakers to join with him to take advantage of these unique opportunities to accomplish good things for Tennessee schools and students.

“I’ve said often that in public life, it’s easy to say ‘I’m for education,’ but it’s much harder to step up and demonstrate that in a meaningful way,” said Bredesen. “At a time when we’re facing an otherwise difficult budget, I believe we have a unique opportunity to step up to the plate and get some things done.”