Photo: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters during a news conference Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, at the state Capitol after the conclusion of a special session on education.
Photo Credit: Vivian Jones
Published January 25, 2021
A special session held to address K-12 learning loss due to Covid-19 came to a close on January 22.
The session, which included Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, and some members from the General Assembly, was held to address the negative impact that the Covid pandemic has had on students.
The pandemic forced most K-12 students to approach school differently, as many kids in Tennessee had to take classes online for a majority of the time. The disruption in how they are typically taught led to learning loss, specifically in Math and reading.
During the session, Governor Lee said, “COVID-19 has severely disrupted education in Tennessee. Our decisive action to intervene on behalf of Tennessee students will equip them for success, educating our kids better in the future than before the pandemic. I thank the General Assembly for their swift passage of legislation that will benefit our students.”
This legislation includes interventions to help students make up for valuable time lost in the classroom over the past several months. It will also increase the salary from the education budget by 4%.
The Senate and House also approved $43 million for teacher pay, meant to be used for salary raises.
“It’s safe to say that we have been the most aggressive state in the country when it comes to turning the tide on this important issue for our children and for getting our students back on track,” Gov. Bill Lee said.
Governor McNally was thankful that the session was able to be as productive and helpful as it was.
He said, “Tennessee has made tremendous improvements in education over the last decade. The coronavirus public health crisis began to put all of that at risk. The steps we took this week will reverse the learning loss that has taken place and prevent any further erosion of our progress.
“I appreciate Governor Lee calling this special session to draw our attention to the pressing needs of education in this state. The House and the Senate came together to ensure our progress continues. I appreciate the efforts of each and every one of my colleagues for their efforts this week on behalf of our students, teachers and parents,” McNally said.
The legislation will prioritize making up for learning loss, as well as implement phonics-based reading lessons. It also includes accountability measures to make sure student progress is being kept track of.
Cameron Sexton said, “This is a momentous day for Tennessee, for our students, and for our parents because our General Assembly has drawn a line in the sand, and we have said we can no longer accept that only one third of our students are proficient in reading and in math.”
“We want to be number one in education; I appreciate Gov. Lee for his vision, as well as Lt. Gov McNally, and the House and Senate for their partnership as we all have worked together this week to transform educational outcomes for Tennessee students,” Sexton said.
The interventions that could be used are after school mini-camps, learning loss camps, and summer camps that would start this year. This program would put any students who score below proficient in reading and math on the top of the priority list for intervention.
The legislation will also reinforce the laws surrounding a third-grade reading gate. This would prevent schools from allowing students to advance if they are not ready.
During the whirlwind four-day special session, lawmakers almost exclusively considered bills proposed and defended by the Lee administration.
House Democratic Leader Karen Camper, D-Memphis, said Friday minority leadership was not invited to be involved in development of the policies.
“Almost two million that we represent in the minority didn’t have a voice in the development of the plan, of the legislation,” Camper said.
“The legislators came in and rubber stamped the agenda of the governor, and that agenda is sorely lacking for the moment,” Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro said during a news conference Friday morning. “Schools do need help. And we leave this special session just as we entered into it, with Tennessee investing less in education per student than almost every state in the country.”