On Tuesday, January 19, Governor Lee began the 112th General Assembly’s Special Session on Education. Legislators will consider measures to address the learning loss due to the pandemic, along with other education topics. Here are the main topics of the session and why it matters to visual and performing arts education:
Pay Increase for Teachers
The Governor has asked for roughly a 4% increase in teacher pay. This is a similar amount that was in last year’s budget but was eliminated as the pandemic caused an economic downturn for the state. If passed, teachers and other certified staff would get a 2% retroactive pay raise from January 1 through June, then another 2% increase July 1.
The Basic Education Program (BEP) is the funding formula that provides state money to local school systems. It is based on the number of students enrolled in the school system. Many systems have seen a decrease in student enrollment due to the pandemic; however, the Governor wants to maintain level funding for schools as in past years, even if the school saw enrollment decline this year.
While the state funding for 145 of the state’s 147 school districts is projected to remain the same, bills filed in the House and Senate could impact Tennessee’s two largest school systems - Shelby County and Metro Nashville. This legislation requires a minimum of 70 in-person instructional days for K-8. Should the bill pass, the Commissioner of Education could withhold all or part of the state funding for any system that fails to comply with the in-person instruction requirements.
Addressing Learning Loss
The remedies supported by the Governor and TDOE should not negatively impact class time during the school day, easing concerns about an RTI-type pullout program to deal with learning loss in math and reading. The Governor's plan includes:
A six-week summer school program is proposed for K-8 students, to begin in June 2021, with a second six-week program for the summer of 2022. The program would be staffed by teachers in the district, to be paid a minimum of $1,000 per week.
A three days per week after-school tutoring program would begin in the fall of 2021. Tutors could include teachers or college students trained for this role. Current plans include a teacher/student ratio of 1 to 5 in the elementary grades and 1 to 8 for older students.
Why this matters: These programs target math and reading. However, learning loss has not been limited only to those subjects. The loss in learning in arts courses is also evident. A well-rounded education includes the arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences, English, and math (ESSA). Moreover, the arts support learning in other subject areas. We encourage arts educators to work with administrators for the inclusion of the arts in these two programs. The TDOE recommends that after-school programming include support for STEAM courses (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), and should be open to all students.
According to current Tennessee law, parents may refuse to vaccinate their children based on their religious or philosophical beliefs in the absence of an epidemic or the immediate threat of an epidemic. A bill recently proposed in both the House and the Senate would eliminate this “epidemic clause” and allow parents to opt out of the coronavirus vaccine for their child. A second bill would prevent state or local authorities from “forcing, requiring or coercing” a person to get a coronavirus vaccine against their will.
Why this matters: If passed, this legislation could be a factor for arts programs that include travel. We will continue to monitor these bills.