NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A controversial bill proposed in the Tennessee legislature’s special session on education, if passed, could take state funding away from school districts that are still closed for in-person learning.
“This has everything to do with our kids and them getting a good education. In order to do that, they need an in-person option. That doesn’t mean every child has to be in every school. That means the option has to be there,” Representative William Lamberth told News 2 Thursday.
Lamberth, joined by 27 other Republican representatives, brought forth the House Bill 7021. In summary, it would require school districts to provide in-person learning for K-8 for a minimum of 70 days this year and 180 days next year in order to get Basic Education Program (BEP) funding.
“Our goal is that no school district could lose money, in fact, we’re putting millions of additional dollars into K through 12 education. We are just asking that our local school systems statewide have an in-person option for our children,” Lamberth explained.
News 2 responded to Lamberth, pointing out that he said ‘asking’ when some say this is threatening.
“Now it’s entirely their call, I mean, if they choose not to do so,” he responded, “Then they don’t need as much money for their school system if it’s all virtual, I mean it literally cost less money to do a virtual school system instead of an in-person school system. And so, we’re really allocating our resources to those schools that are stepping up and meeting state policy.”
In reality, as of right now, the bill really only matters for two districts still online: Shelby County Public Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools.
“The problem that schools are having is enrollments down currently, that doesn’t affect this budget year affects their next budget year,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton told News 2, “So if we do absolutely nothing, they’re going to lose funding anyway.”
While MNPS enrollment is down by 3,200 students, according to district records, the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) says these are cities with high infection rates and teachers are scared.
“There are only two districts that would likely be affected by the proposed legislation and educators in those districts, families in those districts have largely expressed support for staying in a virtual teaching mode because of the high COVID infection rates in that area,” TEA President Beth Brown exclaimed, “Threatening to take away critical education funding is not the right decision.
Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Dr. Adrienne Battle reacted to the bill in a statement to News 2 saying:
“Any proposal to take funding away from students and threaten the mass layoff of teachers in the 2021-22 school year is terrible public policy and does nothing to address any real learning challenges or gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, nor does it do anything to create a safer working or learning environment by slowing or stopping the spread of the coronavirus.”Dr. Adrienne Battle, MNPS Director
On Thursday and Friday, the legislature is focusing on literacy learning loss and teacher accountability. They then hope to move on to discussing this proposal.
The bill is also in the senate at SB7024.