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Education Legislation Passes

From the office of 28th District State Sen. Dr. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald

The General Assembly passed major legislation the week of Jan. 18th to address unprecedented student learning losses as a result of COVID-19 related school closures and time spent away from the classroom.

Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act -- Research estimates a 50% decrease in proficiency rates in 3rd grade reading and a 65% decrease in proficiency rates in math due to the effects of COVID-19 on student learning.

Senate Bill 7002 helps struggling students by providing after-school learning mini-camps, learning loss bridge camps and summer learning camps beginning this summer. It also creates the Tennessee Accelerated Literacy and Learning Corps to provide high-quality tutoring throughout the school year.

Summer learning camps will offer a full day of instruction with a focus on English Language Arts and mathematics. Transportation and meals will be provided.

After school mini-camps, which will focus on STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), will also be available.

Both programs are targeted for grade K-4 students and only will be provided for summer 2021 and summer 2022.

The summer bridge camp is a four-week program which will begin in 2021 and every following summer for non-proficient and other priority students.

The state will fully fund learning loss remediation and student acceleration programs for all priority students who enroll and offer additional seats to other students based on availability or additional local funding.

Teachers will receive at least $1,000 a week for staffing the learning loss bridge or summer learning camps, with stipends differentiated based on a variety of performance factors.

The bill also strengthens the state’s third grade reading retention policy by ensuring that students are on grade-level before being promoted to the 4th grade. It provides rigorous, and well-funded interventions for students to ensure they are caught up before beginning fourth grade.

Tennessee Literacy Success Act – A second bill targets literacy skills to get students on track in the early grades so they can become proficient readers by third grade. Currently, 34% of Tennessee students are proficient or advanced readers by the time they reach fourth grade. It is critical to address this deficiency before students reach 4th grade or much of their curriculum in following grades will be incomprehensible.

About 27% of 8th graders in Tennessee meet standard English Language Arts (ELA) expectations. This suggests these students may have trouble reading and comprehending their text books.

Senate Bill 7003 calls for LEAs and public charter schools to use foundational literacy skills instruction with a phonics-based approach for early reading instruction. This method is backed by research as the most effective way to teach reading to students in early grades. School districts will develop a Foundational Literacy Skills Plan to articulate their strategy to improve literacy outcomes for their students in a transparent manner so parents are informed and can be engaged.

The legislation also establishes a reading screener to identify when a student needs help before third grade so they won’t fall behind. This includes help with dyslexia screening and other testing requirements.

In addition, the bill calls for literacy training for teachers to improve the next generation of K-3 reading teachers. It requires educator preparation programs provide training on foundational literacy skills, and requires K-3 teaching candidates to pass a reading instruction assessment.

Bill ensures educators are held harmless on 2020-21 school year assessments — Teachers, schools, and school districts will be held harmless from any negative consequences associated with student assessments for the 2020-21 school year under a bill passed by the General Assembly during the special session.

This is due to disruptive effects of COVID-19 on student learning in Tennessee. Senate Bill 7001 only allows for assessments to be used in evaluations if it results in a higher final score for the educator.

While the legislation establishes hold harmless provisions, the state will still require Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) testing for them to take effect.

This ensures that while stakeholders are held harmless, parents and educators are still able to access important assessment data to provide an accurate picture of where students are and what supports are needed to regain any learning that has been lost.

Legislation provides funds to increase teacher pay – Key legislation providing funds to Local Boards of Education to increase teacher pay was approved before adjournment of the 2021 special session on education.

Senate Bill 7009 commits more than $42.8 million to increase the salary component of the Basic Education Program (BEP) by 2%. These funds would provide an immediate pay increase for teachers and would be retroactive to Jan. 1.

Appropriation of the funds address the need to increase teachers’ salaries without putting a burden on LEA budgets by not requiring a local match to the dollars allocated.

Hensley may be reached at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way N., Suite 742, Nashville Tenn., 37243 or call his office at 615-741-3100, toll free 1-800-449-8366 ext. 13100, fax 615-253-0231.

His home address is 855 Summertown Highway, Hohenwald, Tenn., 38462 and his home telephone is 931-796-2018. His cell phone is 931-212-8823 and E-mail: sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov


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