General Assembly concludes special session with new education bills

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up a four-day special session on Friday to address education issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

State lawmakers passed three bills to address learning loss and other negative effects.

One bill requires interventions for struggling students, including after-school learning “mini-camps” and summer learning “camps” beginning this summer. The program will prioritize students who score below proficient in both reading and math.

The measure also strengthens the reading proficiency requirement for passing the third grade and creates the Tennessee Accelerated Literacy and Learning Corps, which will provide tutoring to students throughout the school year.

“Up until third grade, you’re learning to read, after that, you’re reading to learn so if you don’t know how to read, you’re really going to be hampered and you’re not going to be able to stay with everyone else,” Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) told News Channel 11.

Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) says there was concern about students not participating in the summer programs getting held back a grade.

“The biggest concern was holding kids back a grade level not only for the social and emotional and financial reasons about it, but just the logistics of being able to hold so many students back,” Hawk said. “There’s a real possibility that those students that do not participate in these summer programs get held back a grade and then that turns into the social and emotional issue for the child and the family and then the financial issue on the school system going forward.”

Legislators also took action to increase teacher pay by passing legislation that “increases the salary component of the education funding formula by 4%.”

“A 2% raise right now, which is going to end up being somewhere between a $500 and $1000 bonus essentially,” Hawk said. “Then the overall 4% raise will go into effect July 1st.”

Hawk says school boards will ultimately decide how the funding gets distributed.

Another bill the General Assembly approved puts more emphasis on phonics-based instruction for students in kindergarten through third grade. It also creates a reading screener that will help identify students in need in of help before they reach the third grade.

State lawmakers also passed a measure extending “hold harmless” provisions from the 2019–20 school year that protect students, teachers, and schools from negative impacts associated with student assessments.

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