This week at the Capitol is a relatively quiet one, with the legislature in a two week period of organizational recess in between the convening of the 112th General Assembly and the start of regular session. But the body did meet last week for a special session on education, called by Governor Bill Lee.
In a Joint Convention last Tuesday, Gov. Lee directed the legislature to take up three key initiatives that aim to address K-12 learning loss, improve literacy, and hold students, teachers, and schools harmless from student assessments. He also subtly rebuked the state’s two largest school districts in Nashville and Memphis for remaining largely closed this school year due to high COVID-19 case numbers. Lee cited virtual learning as the main reason for learning loss.
The governor also called on lawmakers to address additional funding for teachers, asking them to pass legislation that increases the salary component of the education funding formula by four percent and providing a two percent retroactive raise. According to the fiscal note attached to the bills, the two percent bonus would be equal to over $77 million in addition to around $10 million in expenditures for non-licensed personnel employed at schools bringing the total increase in state expenditure to just over $87 million.
Lee’s three initiatives all passed the general assembly down party line votes. Details of these proposals are outlined below.
SB7002/HB7004 – Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act
Lee’s learning loss legislation establishes the Tennessee Accelerated Literacy and Learning Corps program to provide ongoing tutoring for students throughout the academic year. It requires LEAs to implement new interventions by providing after-school learning mini-camps, learning loss bridge camps, and summer learning camps for struggling students, with priority given to those who score below proficient in both reading and math. If students do not hit appropriate reading benchmarks on the state’s comprehensive assessment test, the legislation prohibits third grade students from advancing to the next grade.
The legislature will allocate $115 million over the next two years to fund the program; about $10 million coming from the education lottery; about $102 million coming from the accumulated windfall of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund; and up to $3 million in federal COVID-19 education relief funding.
SB7003/HB7002 – Tennessee Literacy Success Act
Another proposal back by Gov. Lee is the “Tennessee Literacy Success Act,” introduced just weeks after the Tennessee Department of Education launched a $100 million literacy initiative, Reading 360. The program requires local school districts to use a phonics-based approach for teaching children how to read. It provides reading interventions and supports for educators in addition to administering universal reading screeners to students in kindergarten through third grade to improve reading proficiency,
Last year, the Tennessee Department of Education and Lee advocated for a similar literacy initiative that cost $68 million which ultimately failed due to budget cuts made because of the pandemic.
SB7001/HB7003 – Accountability to Inform
The accountability to inform legislation ensures that teachers and students are not punished for potentially poor standardized testing by excluding data generated by state assessments administered in the 2020-2021 school year and data generated by alternative growth models used by LEAs in the 2020-2021 school year. It revises certain tenure eligibility requirements to account for the unavailability of data due to the cancellation of TCAP tests as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, it provides parents and educators with assessment data including TCAP testing to provide an accurate picture of where Tennessee students are and what supports are needed to offset any learning losses.
The legislature is expected to reconvene on Monday, February 8 to resume the regular session.