School leaders say impact from special session on education will be felt for years to come

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Tennessee state lawmakers know their work goes beyond this week’s special session addressing education issues as it now falls into the hands of local school boards and districts.

“Education bills can get lost in all the other bills, so we’re really happy that they paid attention to education,” said Johnson City Board of Education Chair Kathy Hall.

Lawmakers passed legislation addressing the learning loss caused by students not being in classrooms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also approved a pay raise for teachers: a 2% retroactive raise now and a 4% recurring raise this summer, but it’s up to local school board to vote it in.

“The state will not be funding a 2% raise across the board for all employees and it’s important for our board to make sure that all of our employees are getting a raise,” Hall said. “The amount of money that we’ll get will only fund the positions that the state funds so there will be a local match that we have to do to make up any differences.”

Although the additional funding is welcomed, Hall says it’s an issue schools boards are constantly concerned about.

“There have been so many new expenses because of Covid so we’re still learning where we’re going to fund those from and what those costs are,” said Hall. “We have some gaps with some students that have not had all the support that they need to keep up but, we have not seen across-the-board learning loss.”

Lawmakers approved other measures that put increased emphasis on phonics-based learning and funding four, six and eight-week learning “camps.”

“It allows us to shift where we utilize our dollars currently if the state is going to be providing programs on this side that we can shift our dollars locally to take care of those things that are in the 9th through 12 space,” said Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Moorhouse.

Teachers and students will be held “harmless” for standardized testing results.

“This is just such a crazy year and to expect teachers and students to perform the same on tests and evaluations is unrealistic. So, we think its a good thing to hold teachers and students and systems harmless on what test scores are this year,” said Hall. “We haven’t had a great track record on testing the last three years anyway so this would be the wrong year to try to make sure that sticks. “

While local school leaders mainly gave positive reviews, some did express some concern.

“There’s some really broad language there in kids that are going to be needing potential remediation…things like that,” Moorhouse said. “Anytime that we can be targeted and more focused, I think we can generate better results.”

School boards will look through the legislation and discuss the changes at future board meetings.

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