NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The Tennessee General Assembly approved a $160-million package of bills to combat learning loss for students across the state during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has severely disrupted education in Tennessee. Our decisive action to intervene on behalf of Tennessee students will equip them for success, educating our kids better in the future than before the pandemic,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement on Friday. “I thank the General Assembly for their swift passage of legislation that will benefit our students.”

A bill passed on Friday will spread $42 million across the state to increase teacher pay, but how much teachers get is based on a formula drawn out by the Basic Education Program (BEP).

It comes after a 4-day special session called by Governor Lee where some new bills passed aren’t sitting well with Democrats.

“Do I agree with the pay raise?” State Rep. Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville) said. “Yes, I think it’s a great idea. Is it enough? No, it’s not. I think it should be four times that.”

“We are funding every dime of that, and our expectation here is that that will go to additional compensation and raises for teachers,” says State Rep. William Lamberth (R-Portland). “Our teachers have worked hard and all of us here.”

After Friday’s session, $42 million will be divided into school districts across the state. Those dollars - not required - should go to teacher pay raises based on a formula.

“The BEP Formula is a very complicated mechanism that’s used to determine funding for local districts. I’ve made a mistake a time or two of saying 2% or 4% and using those numbers, and really you shouldn’t do that,” Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) said.

Lawmakers say the raise could be 1.8%, but other districts could see more or less.

“The BEP funding formula has to be reevaluated. It has to be looked at closely because it’s not working,” says State Rep. Dixie.

One bill not brought to the floor during the special session could penalize Metro Nashville and Memphis schools for not having in-person learning. It is unclear when lawmakers will discuss that bill. Lee said he plans to address teacher pay raises more next week.

The following legislation was passed this week:

Intervening to Stop Learning Loss – SB 7002/HB 7004

  • Requires interventions for struggling students including after-school learning mini-camps, learning loss bridge camps and summer learning camps, beginning summer 2021
  • Program prioritizes students who score below proficient in both reading (ELA) and math subjects
  • Creates the Tennessee Accelerated Literacy and Learning Corps to provide ongoing tutoring for students throughout the entire school year
  • Strengthens laws around a third grade reading gate so we no longer advance students who are not prepared

Building Better Readers with Phonics – SB 7003/HB 7002

  • Ensures local education agencies (LEAs) use a phonics-based approach for kindergarten through third grade reading instruction
  • Establishes a reading screener for parents and teachers to identify when students need help, well before third grade
  • Provides training and support for educators to teach phonics-based reading instruction

Accountability to Inform – SB 7001/HB 7003

  • Extends hold harmless provisions from the 2019-20 school year to the 2020-21 school year so that students, teachers, schools and districts do not face any negative consequences associated with student assessments
  • Provides parents and educators with assessment data including TCAP testing to provide an accurate picture of where Tennessee students are and what supports are needed to offset any learning losses

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