Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has called for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene for a special legislative session on January 19 to address urgent issues facing Tennessee students and schools in the 2021-22 school year.
Preliminary data projects an estimated 50% decrease in proficiency rates in 3rd grade reading and a projected 65% decrease in proficiency in math. This loss only exacerbates issues that existed prior to the pandemic, where only one third of Tennessee third graders were reading on grade level.
“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense disruption for Tennessee’s students, educators, and districts, and the challenges they face must be addressed urgently,” said Gov. Lee. “Even before the virus hit, and despite years of improvement, too many of our state’s students were still unable to read on grade level. I’m calling on the legislature to join us in addressing these serious issues so we can equip our hardworking educators and districts with the resources and supports they need to set our students on the path to success.”
During the special session, the legislature will be tasked to take up five key education issues: Learning Loss, Funding, Accountability, Literacy, and Teacher Pay. Details on each proposal will be released by the Department of Education in the near future, in addition to the department’s plans to implement a new literacy program, ‘Reading 360.’ The program will leverage one-time federal relief funding to support a phonics-based approach to literacy and will ensure Tennessee districts, teachers, and families are equipped with tools and resources to help students read on grade level by third grade.
“As we have heard from districts since March, students need their teachers and schools like never before,” said Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “No child’s future should suffer academically because of COVID-19. Not only as commissioner, but as a mother of two school-aged children, I am grateful for the bold solutions that our governor and legislature will provide for our students and schools across the state and the department stands ready to work together to accomplish this mission-critical work.”
According to state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, the special session should be used to address systemic funding issues in public schools that pre-date the pandemic.
“I hope the legislature takes this opportunity to unite around a bold agenda that invests in public schools. We have to give our educators the resources they need to support students and reverse learning loss, but we can’t stop there. Tennessee was 46th in the nation for student funding before the pandemic hit. The coronavirus did not create inequities in education and it is not the cause of our teacher retention crisis, but it did make these problems worse,” said Akbari.
“No matter what zip code you’re in, every child deserves a great, well-funded public school and our teachers deserve a safe working environment that respects and rewards their contributions.”