This year’s Legislative session concluded with the passage of 65 new pieces of legislation impacting education. Included were major systemic changes to how schools are funded, decisions on what content is allowed in classes, and the state asserting control over issues traditionally handled by the local school board. As an educator and advocate, we urge you to be knowledgeable about the specific laws potentially impacting the arts.
New Grading Scale for High Schools (SB 0388/HB 0324)
Beginning next school year, Tennessee high schools will no longer use the current 7-point grading scale but will adopt the more widely used 10-point scale. This change will align our state with the grading scale used by most other states, including the eight states that border Tennessee.
Why this matters: The new grading scale will make more of our state’s high school graduates eligible for financial aid and scholarships, including the HOPE scholarship. All high school arts teachers will be required to use the new 10-point scale beginning next fall.
Release Time Course (HB 0962)
Present law authorizes local boards of education to adopt a policy that excuses a student from school to attend a released time course in religious moral instruction for no more than one class period per school day. Under current law (Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-2-130), students enrolled in such an off campus course will receive ½ elective credit toward graduation. HB 0962 would have increased the credit from one-half to one. This bill failed in the Senate on a technicality and was not passed into law this session. However, we feel certain it will come up again in the next session.
Why this matters: Granting graduation credit for a course that is not part of the TDOE-approved curriculum, taught by a non-certified teacher is a troubling precedent. Also concerning is a provision of the current statute that limits the courses the student can miss to attend the instruction, stating that “participating students may not be excused during any class that requires testing for state or federal accountability purposes.”
Retired Teachers Returning to Work (HB2783-SB2702): Through 2025, retired teachers could be reemployed as a teacher or substitute teacher without having their retirement benefits taken away or suspended. Currently, retired teachers can return to work for 120 days maximum. The change would allow teachers to return for an entire school year if there are no other qualified applicants. During reemployment in a school system, retirement benefits would be reduced to 70% of retirement allowance, and the existing salary cap would be removed.
Why this matters: With the current Tennessee teacher shortage expected to increase, this is one of a group of legislative actions that addresses this shortage.
Divisive Concepts in Higher Education (HB2670-SB2290): A student or employee of a Tennessee public university must not be penalized, discriminated against, or receive any adverse treatment due to their refusal to support divisive concepts. The law lists several such divisive concepts, which can be found under the Summary tab for the legislation. Public university students have the right to sue professors if they believe they received low grades based on politics or ideology.
Why this matters: University arts educators will now operate under more restrictive guidelines when developing new curriculum or designing syllabi for existing courses.
Legislation on Library Books, Teaching Materials, and Age-Appropriate Content
The remaining legislation covered in this section addresses aspects of the instructional materials educators use to teach their students.
Why this matters: While none of the bills specifically mention arts courses, the content includes topics commonly covered in some arts courses.
Age-Appropriate Materials Act (HB 2154/SB 2407): Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, this legislation requires each Tennessee school to maintain a current list of the materials in the school's library posted on the school's website. Each local school board is required to adopt a policy for reviewing library materials to ensure all are appropriate for the age and maturity levels of the students who may access the materials. School boards must also develop a system for accepting feedback from a student, a student’s parent/guardian, or a school employee concerning the appropriateness of library material. If the local school board finds the book or material under question not appropriate, the school must remove the material from the library.
New Appellate Process (HB2666-SB2247): This legislation tasks the State Textbook Commission with creating an appeals process for challenged books if a student, family member or school employee disagrees with a decision made by a local school board. The Commission's final vote on materials, challenged as "inappropriate for the age or maturity levels" for students, would then apply to every school in the state, not just the school where the challenge originally arose. The final ruling by the State Textbook Commission would overrule the local school board decision.
Supplemental Teaching Materials (SB 0659/HB 1535)
This bill did not pass this session but could return in the next session. If passed, this bill would have required the State Board of Education to approve all supplemental materials used by teachers in the classroom. This bill defines "supplemental materials" as a lesson plan, reading material, student worksheet, or instructional guide that a teacher uses to instruct students, if these materials are not created by a teacher within the school.