May 18, 2021
From the special legislative session to combat Tennessee’s literacy crisis and COVID-related learning loss, to a regular session with several hundred bills focused on education, 2021 already has been a big year for Tennessee students. Whitney, a rising 9th grader in Middle Tennessee, helps us run through the top three wins to date.
Click the photo below to hear more from Whitney and keep reading for a full recap of all TSS has been up to on Capitol Hill in Nashville.
The 2021 legislative session commenced with the filing of approximately 1,830 bills. Several hundred focused on education reform. Below is a recap of important initiatives TSS worked to advance and support during the legislative session.
Basic Education Program (BEP) Hold Harmless Legislation: TSS supported HB777/SB774, which was proposed by Governor Lee in response to the downturn in student enrollment due to COVID-19. The bill established that a local education agency’s BEP calculation for the 2021-2022 school year must not be less than the local education agency’s BEP calculation for the 2020-2021 school year. This legislation also opened door to broader conversations on the inadequacies related to the BEP funding formula and the potential for an overhaul in the next couple of years.
Achievement School District (ASD) Legislation: TSS also helped advance the administration’s ASD legislation, HB74/SB737, which addressed the existing criteria for schools to exit from ASD governance by creating clear opportunities for ASD schools to continue serving students and communities if they have shown adequate performance.
Career and Technical Education: On the career and technical education front, TSS supported several related bills, including legislation sponsored and conceptualized by TSS champion Tim Hicks, HB1446/SB1240, which mandates that the Tennessee Department of Education provide career and technical education opportunities for students in middle school. TSS also supported K-12 Subcommittee Chairman Kirk Haston’s legislation, HB745/SB1134, which creates the “Tennessee Work Ready Opportunity Program” to assess and certify individuals’ career readiness using nationally recognized assessments. Finally, TSS helped pass the SEM Advancement Act, HB973/SB414, which requires a local board of education or charter school governing body to develop and adopt a policy that establishes criteria for the enrollment of students in grades 7-12 into available advanced English language arts, math, and science courses.
As hard as TSS worked to advance numerous policies that position Tennessee students for success, we also opposed a number of bills that would have been detrimental, including:
Eleventh Grade Assessment Legislation: HB647/SB1042 would have created different 11th grade student assessments for a student who intends to attend a college and a student who intends to attend a career and technical college or pursue a career path. The bill would have precluded a student in taking the ACT if they chose to pursue a different career path.
Expanding Virtual School Class Size: HB858/SB703 initially sought to expand the virtual school class size but was later amended to expand student enrollment numbers in virtual school districts. Due to TSS opposition pressure, and that of our partners, the bill was eventually taken off notice in subcommittee.
Furthermore, TSS watched closely two bills that will likely come up for a vote in the near future.
Teacher Evaluation Process: HB1407/SB1324 was filed as a caption but via amendment sought to revamp the teacher evaluation process via proposed recommendations from a reconstituted teacher evaluation advisory committee. Action on the bill was eventually deferred in subcommittee until 2022.
For-Profit Charter Operator Schools: HB535/SB455 pertains to for profit charters. We have serious concern with the quality of for profit charter operator schools, as well as the dubious history of their operations in other states.
Approval of the state budget was the last item on the legislative agenda for the year. The budget, as passed, included a number of TSS priorities:
The Tennessean: Three Tennessee high school students named 2021 presidential scholars
Tennessean Department of Education: Free Reading Resources Now Available for All Tennessee Families of K-2 Children
The Tennessean: The Tennessee legislature has adjourned for the year. Here’s what they did.
WTVF (Nashville): Report: Less Nashville high school graduates enrolled in college during the pandemic
The 74th: Q&A: Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn Discusses the Need for More (and Better) Data to Guide Efforts in Helping Students Catch Up After the Pandemic