Reading issues and school safety questions come before TN education commissioner


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN)- Tennessee kids not reading well and ways to keep them safe were among the many questions posed to the state’s education commissioner Monday.

The questions came during an hour and 15 minute state budget hearing for the Tennessee House which marked the first time such an event had been held out of session by the chambers’ Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

“How far are we along in getting SROs in all schools in Tennessee,” was one of the questions asked by Middle Tennessee Representative Brandon Ogles.

Over four hundred fifty Tennessee schools do not have SROs (student resource officers) was part of the response from K-12 Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn who answered most of the questions.

While some state money has been allocated for the SROs in the previous state, Commissioner Schwinn said there are hurdles before the officers are in every school.

“There is a supply and demand issue of once the money is allocated or once that would be a requirement,” said Schwinn. “We would have to work with local law enforcement agencies in terms of recruitment and training of people who could then serve in schools.”

Near the end of the hearing, West Tennessee Republican Representative Andy Holt said, “there is an answer in my opinion to address school safety.”

He said, “that is to allow teachers and coaches to voluntarily go armed in schools and to put up an abundance of signs around those schools saying students on that campus are protected by teachers and coaches that are on that campus.”

Rep. Holt said “its definitely time to look at that especially in view of how much school safety is costing.”

Commissioner Schwinn did not respond to Rep. Holt’s comments during the hearing and later before reporters said she “was not in a place to comment on that at this time, we are focused on the budget hearing,”

While school safety was part of the hearing, so was the issue kids not reading well.

“Its absolutely ridiculous,” said House Republican Majority Leader William Lamberth in a question to Commissioner Schwinn. “Its absolutely unacceptable by any metric that cannot continue.”

The education commissioner said 15-million in education funds for literacy is a “first step” and  “hard conversations” are ahead on a number of areas for literacy improvement–especially for kids who are not reading at what is called the expected level for their grade in school.

“We have to think broadly and big about what we want to do for literacy if we are serious about ensuring that every single kid is on grade level by third grade–specifically in reading,” Commissioner Schwinn told the hearing.

The House budget hearings continue through Thursday.

The state’s biggest agency TennCare comes before lawmakers.

It’s a day before the department faces a November 20th request to submit its request to the federal government to change the way TennCare is funded.

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