Lawmakers wrap up special legislative session on education

Updated: Jan. 23, 2021 at 2:54 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WMC) - The Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up a special session this week, approving a $160 million package of bills addressing learning loss, literacy, accountability and teacher pay.

Tennesse Gov. Bill Lee called the special session, which focused solely on education issues.

“I’ve found there has been no greater place for COVID-19 to cause disruption, sweeping disruption than in our K-12 education system,” said Lee.

Lawmakers approved legislation to help struggling students by setting up after school and summer learning programs.

The legislation also creates a tutoring corps to help students throughout the school year.

They passed a bill calling on schools to use a phonics-based approach to teach young students how to read.

They also passed a measure to hold teachers, schools, and districts harmless from negative consequences relating to student testing.

Lawmakers approved $42.8 million for teacher salaries.

The money would provide an immediate pay increase for teachers and would be retroactive from Jan. 1.

“Teachers have worked hard, especially throughout the pandemic to adapt to new challenges, new dynamics, and new instruction environments while still meeting the needs of all students,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin. “I am very pleased this legislation has been approved and that funds are being provided to our local education agencies for this purpose.”

While the legislation is meant to give teachers a two percent pay increase, because of the state’s complex funding formula, the amount that actually ends up in a teacher’s paycheck will vary by district.

It could amount to less than a two percent pay increase for some teachers.

“It is time... for the administration to recognize the hard work of Tennessee’s educators and provide them the additional compensation that they deserve,” said Beth Brown, president of the Tennessee Education Association.

Brown said last semester teachers worked hundreds of hours beyond what’s required of them.

“What’s critical for people to remember is that educators, in their efforts to continue providing critical service to students, have spent hundreds of hours beyond what they typically work in a normal academic year,” said Brown. “We don’t ask any other profession to work for lower wages just because they love their jobs, so treat us as the professionals that we are both in the compensation, and then also respect for the work that we do.”

Lawmakers pledged to provide another increase for teachers later this year.

Lawmakers did not pass a bill to withhold funding from school districts that did not provide in-person classes at least 70 days this school year, although it could come up in regular session.

Shelby County Schools and Nashville are currently the only two districts that would be impacted by that bill.

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