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Education a Priority with State Legislature 

Education was a major focus for the 112th Tennessee General Assembly. During the nearly five-month session, legislators proposed over 300 bills that address K-12 education, with several key bills that could potentially have an impact on the arts in Tennessee’s public schools.  
State Funding for School Systems Remains at Pre-pandemic Levels: During the past year, many school systems have experienced a decrease in enrollment. Since school funding is based on the number of students enrolled, there was concern fewer students would mean less money for the 2021/22 school year. However, the General Assembly passed “hold harmless” legislation that mandated school systems would receive at least the same level of funding as the 2019/20 school year.

  • Status: Passed; to be enacted May 11, 2021
  • Why it matters: A decrease in school funding can influence staffing decisions. Less money can mean fewer teachers.
Teacher Discipline ActHB 16/SB 230 creates a uniform referral process which allows teachers to remove a student from their class who repeatedly or substantially interferes with classroom learning. Once the disruptive student is disciplined, principals could use their discretion to send the student back to the classroom or permanently remove the child from the class. This bill allows teachers to file an appeal with a schools’ director or local superintendent if they disagree with that decision.
  • Status: Passed; Enacted as of January 1, 2022
  • Why it matters: This legislation establishes a process for teachers to remove a student who causes repeated disruptions in class. While some school systems have a procedure in place, this legislation creates a unified statewide policy.
 Release Time Course: HB 962 sought to expand the amount of credit awarded for students enrolled in release time courses from 0.5 credit to one full credit. This legislation would have amended the current release time law.
  • Status: Failed in House Education Administration Committee
  • Why it matters: The passage of HB 962 would have strengthened and expanded the current release time statute, which has negatively impacted elementary visual art and music classes in Tennessee. By working with our advocates across the state, along with other education organizations, ArtsEd Tennessee successfully blocked the expansion of this program. The coordinated effort of TMEA and TAEA members illustrates the importance of working together to achieve goals that are mutually beneficial to visual and performing arts programs.
Supplemental Teaching Materials: HB1535/SB659 would prohibit teachers from using supplemental materials that are not approved by the State Board of Education or the local school board. The bill would require that all supplemental instructional materials receive state or local approval before being used in class. 
  • Status: Senate Education Committee deferred to the first calendar 2022 Session
  • Why it matters: The intent of this legislation is to ensure that all supplemental materials used in the K-12 classroom adhere to state standards; however, in its current form it could have unintended negative consequences on the arts. Scripts, sheet music, workbooks, and visual arts materials could be defined as supplemental teaching materials, requiring approval by the state or local school boards. We are following this bill closely, and will work with the bill’s sponsors to seek an amendment as needed.

Student learning loss due to the pandemic is a major focus for the General Assembly, the Governor and the Tennessee Department of Education. 
According to Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), all schools should prioritize a well-rounded education that includes the arts, sciences, social sciences, English, and math. As arts education advocates, we must ensure that the arts are included in any discussion of student learning loss.  

  • For teachers: ask to be involved when your school district develops plans to address learning loss. Be at the table when decisions are made.
  • Background knowledge in a content-rich curriculum that includes the arts allows students to transfer learning across subject areas.
  • Schools are looking to address students’ social and emotional learning (SEL) needs. The arts will play a critical role in this process. For a helpful resource on the arts and SEL, click HERE
  • The TDOE has identified high-dosage tutoring as the most cost-effective solution to learning loss, and the one that offers the most immediate results to help students regain lost ground. Consider using new terminology (tutoring) to describe the activity of private/small group lessons and how the benefits would qualify for funding as it meets the need for learning loss mitigation.  


The next newsletter will address the opportunities presented by Elementary and Secondary Relief Funding (ESSER). Stay tuned!

Thank you for being an active, informed member of ArtsEd Tennessee. We will continue our work throughout the summer, so continue checking your email! We hope your summer brings great renewal and much joy.

Best wishes,

Stephen Coleman

Know who represents you in the Tennessee General Assembly.
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