Image Credit: Senator Bo Watson / Facebook
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
Tennessee State Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson-District 11) stressed the importance of in-person learning for students at a recent Friends of Hixson meeting.
With the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) releasing TCAP scores last week that showed a modest improvement in test scores from last year, Watson believes that school districts that prioritized having students in school recovered quicker.
He estimates that Hamilton County public schools spent approximately 90% of their time learning in person and thinks that forthcoming data will bear out his hypothesis next month.
“I think you’ll see when the district data comes out in July … that school systems that worked really hard to keep kids in the classroom recovered at a much faster rate,” said Watson. “I think when our district-level data comes out, it’s going to show that that made a significant difference.”
Speaking at Clear Creek Church of Christ, Watson praised focused efforts by the state, such as summer reading labs, that played a role in reversing learning loss due to remote learning during the pandemic. Tennessee also invested $100 million of federal funds into Reading 360 to help Tennessee students develop strong reading skills.
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TDOE says that student proficiency in English is back to pre-pandemic levels. “That’s the good news,” said Watson. “The bad news is that our pre-pandemic reading levels were not great to begin with, but the fact that our school systems have made what I would consider a Herculean effort to get us back to where we were pre-pandemic is pretty phenomenal.”
Third grade English Language Arts proficiency rates were 36.9% in 2019 and are now 35.7%, up from 32.1% in 2021. Less than half of high school students are at grade level in English when adding up Exceeded and Met percentages, both before the pandemic and now.
Watson anticipates that the state’s new education funding formula that will funnel $47 million more to Hamilton County in fiscal year 2024 (for a total of $397 million) will make a significant difference in the district.
The new formula, known as the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA), sets up a new formula for Tennessee’s schools to be funded beginning with the 2023-2024 school year.
TISA will provide a base per-student cost of $6,860 and adds weights based on a student’s learning needs, whether the student lives in a low-income household or area or if the student lives in a rural area.
The formula replaces the Basic Education Plan, a district-based formula that funded staff based on student to staff ratios, that was created in 1992 and promises to fund students, not systems, as funding follows the student if they move to another district.
“Students in this state will be better off than they were before,” Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn has stated.
The new funding model will invest a one time sum of $250 million statewide this fall and $750 million in recurring funds in fiscal year 2023 and 2024.
Watson expects that the formula will need tweaking over the next three to five years but ultimately believes it will give principals more flexibility in the way they operate schools.
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org.