KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced a special legislative session for the Tennessee General Assembly on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 to address urgent issues facing Tennessee students and schools in the 2021-22 school year.
WATE 6 On Your Side’s Kristen Gallant spoke to several lawmakers on Sunday ahead of the called meeting.
During the special session, legislators will be looking at five key education issues: Learning Loss, Funding, Accountability, Literacy, and Teacher Pay.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties can agree that something needs to be done to help both students and educators, but they don’t agree on the legislation that is on Tuesday’s agenda.
“I do think that teachers have certainly gone through a lot of challenges and they should be compensated accordingly,” said Rep. Eddie Mannis (R) for State House District 18. “So, I am a strong supporter. Well figure out the details. That’s what the special session is about.”
However, Rep. Gloria Johnson (D) for State House District 13 said, “If you ask me this whole special session is a publicity stunt for the governor.”
The Democratic Party did try to bring up legislation in 2020 regarding school funding, but that legislation is not on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.
Johnson said, “They put three hundred and seventy-five million into the rain day fund. And then here in a few months, they’re going to put another 250 million into the rainy day fund. Most Tennesseans feel like it’s raining.”
One key topic that will be addressed by both parties is a potential pay raise for teachers.
“The amount of money that’s in there for a teacher raise at this point is an insult to teachers and it’s one-time only,” explained Johnson. “It’s two-percent and they’re not going to see it until the next school year.”
“We should be giving a four-percent raise to teachers that will continue on,” she added. “… It’s estimated that teachers are doing 13 hours more per week in a classroom due to the pandemic than they normally do.”
Though Rep. Mannis said though he supports Governor Lee’s initiative, he said teachers need to be compensated accordingly.
Another issue that will be talked about is whether or not students should take standardized tests in the coming school year.
“It is a struggle,” said Mannis. “Their class size is certainty decreasing because of trying to socially distance. They have kids at home, they have kids in the classroom.”
“These tests that were talking about, these high standardized tests are called standardized tests for a reason.” said Johnson. “They’re given standard settings under standard conditions. We don’t have standard-setting and standard conditions right now.”