August 15, 2022
The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act passed in May with the promise of modernizing the way Tennessee funds public education. Less attention has been given to the future rules that will govern TISA. These rules are critical to ensure every student is given an equitable pathway for success.
The Tennessee Department of Education released its proposed rules in June and offered Tennesseans the opportunity to submit feedback. The final version of the department rules received positive recommendation from the Tennessee State Board of Education last week and TSS is excited to see these revised rules incorporate many comments captured during the extensive public comment period. What follows are highlights from those revisions and discussion points for future consideration.
The department incorporated new language into every special education (SPED) direct services definition to include emphasis on services delivered in the least restrictive environment. This clarification emphasizes the need for eligible students to be incorporated into mainstream classrooms as much as possible. SPED direct services definitions will now list psychological, social work, speech language pathology, school health counseling, vision, hearing and mobility services, occupational and physical therapy as eligible services. The list excludes recreational therapy, music therapy and art therapy from direct services eligibility. This is improved clarification over previous draft rules that did not specify eligible services for each SPED unique learner need (ULN).
Further Consideration: SPED direct services funding based on hours of service fails to account for the nuanced cost of each type of support service. We should instead consider a multiple weight system based on specific disabilities as outlined by the Education Trust.
The department added an important clarification that high schools can utilize the early warning system already in place statewide to identify students, in addition to approved universal screeners. A screening matrix will be outlined in the Dyslexia Resource Guide to further clarify identification procedures.
Further Consideration: Current eligibility rules are still more restrictive than the existing Dyslexia Resource Guide. Will current rules decrease the number of eligible students for this type of funding? Will this make districts susceptible to under-identifying students? Will districts be at risk of covering the cost of interventions without additional state funding?
Grade bands (K-3 and 4-12) have been removed from the rule language to instead emphasize WIDA test scores for ULN eligibility. This is important as advocates gave numerous comments to the department asking them to fund students based on English proficiency scores (WIDA test scores), instead of grade level. Non-native English speakers enter the public school system at all levels of proficiency, regardless of the grade level they are placed. Funding based on WIDA test scores is more equitable.
Further Consideration: What resources will be made available to EL Tier III students if they become ineligible after three years of services? Will they transition to lower EL tiers, even with demonstrated need for additional services? Will districts have to provide additional services entirely through their own funding? Is this equitable to districts serving higher populations of EL students?
Proposed rules will fund Career Technical Education (CTE) programs by a ranking system of in-demand and high-wage earning career data. Previously, under the Basic Education Program, CTE programs were funded equally. The new method will incentivize districts to offer CTE programs that align with area workforce needs. CTE programs will also be funded based on student progression within the program to incentivize program completion instead of participation alone. The department will adjust CTE program funding levels every three years, instead of every two years to allow more time for districts to adjust programming. Students participating in phased out programs will continue to receive funding to allow for program completion. Rules were also revised to decrease workforce development areas from 10 to 9, to align with the 9 existing local workforce development boards (LWDBs) in Tennessee.
Further Consideration: The CTE program leveling process needs to be regionally specific to ensure increased accuracy of in-demand and high-wage occupation data for each workforce development area. Accurate data is essential for informed program planning at the district level. Is Job4TN.gov an accurate metric for in-demand jobs data? Alternative metrics to consider include Emsi Burning Glass/Lightcast utilized by many higher education institutions in Tennessee, and the forthcoming Needs Index co-created by East Tennessee State University President, Dr. Brian Noland.
Outcomes bonuses constituted the largest volume of feedback generated during the public comment period. The commissioner reconvened an outcomes review committee to implement feedback into draft rule language. Elementary outcomes bonuses are now condensed into one singular category for clarity. Elementary, middle, and high school level categories consistently incorporate both proficiency and growth outcomes goals. The TISA Guide will include an outcomes eligibility matrix to allow for different combinations of proficiency and growth score combinations to generate bonuses. Weighted funding for English learners and students with disabilities are now consistent across all grade levels.
Future Considerations: The department added language to allow for future exploration to better define “Significant Growth”. The department intends to incorporate TVAAS student-level growth trends, as data sets become available. “Significant growth” is a subjective measurement by nature and will change over time. Ongoing professional development is essential to keep districts informed about outcomes bonus eligibility requirements.
Since its introduction, TISA has faced considerable pushback regarding allocation and distribution of funding to public charter schools. Rule language specifies that all eligible state and local funds generated by public charter schools must be allocated and distributed to those public charter schools. However, this language is in accordance with state board rules that existed under the previous funding formula, the Basic Education Program. TISA does not change public charter school allocation and distribution rules, it is a continuation of previous state board policy. TISA’s student-driven framework will offer an unprecedented level of transparency that will allow for more equitable fiscal planning by all public schools in Tennessee.
Future Considerations: How and where will longitude and comparative school and district-level funding and district, state, and federal-level per-pupil expenditure data be reported? How frequently will it be updated? What professional development training is planned for school and community leaders to best used this data? Will student caregivers be informed on how to utilize this data to advocate for student needs?
Final draft rules will now be reviewed by the Tennessee Attorney General and submitted to the Secretary of State. The rules will then be published to the Secretary of State and Tennessee Administrative website for 90 days and heard by the Tennessee General Assembly’s Joint Government Operations Committee for review and approval. The department is currently creating robust professional development curriculum, including the TISA Guide that will detail implementation processes for the 2023-2024 school year. TSS will continue to follow TISA rulemaking and implementation process with regular updates here.
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