Staff photo by Patrick Smith/Chattanooga Times Free Press Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen talks during an interview Thursday with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in his Nashville office.
NASHVILLE — Gov. Phil Bredesen predicted Thursday that state lawmakers will approve his proposal to tie teacher evaluations and tenure to student achievement.
“I believe it will get done,” Gov. Bredesen told the Chattanooga Times Free Press during a sit-down interview in his state Capitol office.
However, he said he also expects to face opposition from the Tennessee Education Association, which represents thousands of teachers statewide.
“I don’t believe TEA is going to support it in making it happen,” he said, hastily adding, “But I also believe, since I have a lot of respect for the organization and have worked with them, that we can assuage those fears in the way this thing is put together over the course of the next year.”
The association’s chief lobbyist, Jerry Winters, appeared taken aback by the governor’s remarks.
“I hope he’s not saying we’re at an impasse on this issue,” Mr. Winters said. “We’re under the impression that conversations are going to continue, and we were hoping we could reach an agreement and still hope that we can.”
Gov. Bredesen’s comments come as he prepares officially to call lawmakers into a special session on Tuesday to address K-12 and higher education reforms.
For K-12 education, the governor is seeking changes he says are necessary to help Tennessee compete for federal “Race to the Top” funds, which seek to encourage and reward schools that create conditions for education innovations and reform.
Those steps include, he said, using student testing data to help evaluate teacher performance when it comes to granting tenure as well as in annual evaluations. If Tennessee is selected for Race to the Top money, it could bring as much as $500 million in one-time funds, the administration says.
The deadline to apply for the federal funds is Jan. 19, Gov. Bredesen has emphasized, but lawmakers note there is also a separate round of competition with a June deadline.
Tennessee Education Association officials have been negotiating with top gubernatorial aides in recent weeks. On Thursday, House and Senate leaders expected the legislation to be unveiled but it was delayed — due to the lack of agreement.
“If we could overcome our differences on a couple of key issues, we could be supportive,” Mr. Winters said.
Among them is how much weight to give testing when assessing teacher performance, he said.
Gov. Bredesen has said it should be at least 50 percent. The TEA says that is too much.
While noting “there is an agreement in principle” with TEA officials, Gov. Bredesen said there remains a “wide gap on how much” weight to give student achievement in teacher evaluations.
Mr. Winters said the TEA, which in years past has blocked using test scores in awarding tenure, is making a good-faith effort in discussions.
“I don’t want the TEA blamed for knocking the state out of several hundred million dollars,” he said. “On the other hand, it goes against our grain ... to rush something through the Legislature on the chance you’ll get some federal money.”
The governor, a Democrat in his last year in office, said he would be pushing to use student achievement test results in determining tenure regardless of the federal funds.
“I think we can design a real evaluation in a way that addresses the concerns and fears that teachers have about its arbitrary use,” Gov. Bredesen said.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...