NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday announced a call for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene for a special legislative session on Jan. 19 “to address urgent issues facing Tennessee students and schools in the 2021-22 school year.”
In a news release shared by the governor’s office, the special session is to address learning loss, funding, accountability, literacy, and teacher pay.
Preliminary data projects an estimated 50% decrease in proficiency rates in 3rd-grade reading and a projected 65% decrease in proficiency in math. The governor’s office saying 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,” Lee said. “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.”
“As we have heard from districts since March, students need their teachers and schools like never before,” Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said. “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.”
“In addition to presenting a public health crisis and disrupting our economy, the coronavirus also created enormous obstacles for our parents, teachers and students. Tennessee has made tremendous improvements in education over the last decade. The virus has begun to put all of that at risk,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said. “It is of paramount importance that we take steps to reverse the learning loss that has taken place and prevent any further erosion of our progress. I appreciate Governor Lee calling this special session to draw our focus on the pressing needs of education in this state. The Senate will work with the House and the Administration to address these issues in an expeditious and efficient manner to the benefit of our students and our teachers.”
“I support Gov. Lee’s call for a special session on education,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton said. “The pandemic has caused considerable disruption for our students, teachers, and schools. Our goal is to make sure students are learning in the classroom, teachers have the resources they need, and our students have additional assistance in their educational journeys to improve their chances of success.”
“Over the past few years Tennessee has seen exciting growth in student achievement and we must take all necessary steps to make sure our students continue to learn through this ongoing pandemic,” state Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson said. “I salute the governor for calling us into special session to address this important problem and thank him for his continued commitment to education.”
“As a parent of two children in the public school system and a Representative of so many thousands of other families, I know it is critical for us to have the best education system in the nation,” state House Majority Leader William Lamberth said. “I appreciate the Governor calling us into Special Session to ensure our children and teachers have the support they need in these difficult times.”
During the special session, the Legislature will be tasked to take up five key education issues:
- Learning Loss
- Teacher Pay
Details on each proposal will be released by the Department of Education in the near future, the governor’s office said, 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.