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Tennessee General Assembly Begins
Special Session on Education

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.

School Funding

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:

Summer School

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.

After-School Tutoring

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.

Coronavirus Vaccine

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.

Take Action on ESSER 2.0 Grants

Allotments from the Elementary and Secondary Emergency School Relief Fund II (ESSER 2.0) have reached Tennessee’s local school districts to assist in offsetting costs related to the pandemic.  Roughly $990 million has been distributed to the state’s 147 school systems. The funds may be used by school arts education programs to help cover pandemic related expenses.

Step 1: Get more information from TDOE. Click HERE for an FAQ with more details.

Step 2: Click HERE to find out the amount your school system received.

Step 3: Schedule a meeting with your administration to learn more and to make a case for your program needs. 

Seeking Active ArtsEd Advocates (A3)

What is A3? ArtsEd Tennessee seeks a cadre of Active ArtsEd Advocates – A3 -- in each of our state’s 33 legislative districts.

Most members of the Tennessee General Assembly support arts education in our schools. It’s not a hard sell. Most legislators also are unaware when a particular piece of legislation might have unintended negative consequences for the arts.

The surest way to build greater understanding for the arts is by building relationships with legislators. And the most effective relationships are with his/her constituents—people who actually reside in the legislative district. 

An A3 team member is willing to contact their legislative representatives by email or phone in a timely manner for the purpose of cultivating a relationship and providing expertise on specific legislation. 

  ArtsEd Tennessee will:
  1. Provide guidance in how to cultivate relationships

  2. Provide context and background on specific legislation

  3. Offer talking points 

  4. Set up legislative meetings, as needed

Our approach is positive and non-adversarial. Our role is to provide expertise to legislators to enable meaningful education legislation that supports all learning.

Sign up!

If you are interested in joining A3, contact ArtsEdTN.  Include your name, street address and town, and your legislative district if known. (We can help if you don’t know.)  

 We look forward to working with you! Our network is most effective with on-the-ground advocates who will engage and respond. We hope you will join us.

Stephen Coleman
Director, ArtsEd Tennessee
Know who represents you in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Click HERE to find your legislator.
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