NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - State lawmakers will focus on education this week during a special legislative session.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee addressed a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly before the special session on Tuesday afternoon.
"As we approach the one year mark of managing the COVID-19 pandemic in Tennessee and facing the number of other challenges in this state and on the federal level, it's a common refrain to hear 'this is a historic time,' or an 'unprecedented time' or 'never before have seen a challenge of this magnitude,'" Lee said.
Lee said lawmakers "cannot wait because our students cannot wait." The proposed legislation state lawmakers will tackle learning loss, literacy, accountability, and teacher pay.
"We have a lot of learning loss in Tennessee. We don't know to what extent until we do the Tennessee Ready test here at the end of the school year, but we're anticipating learning loss," Speaker Cameron Sexton, (R) Crossville said.
Speaker Sexton said 20 bills had been filed for the session. One proposes holding back third-graders who are struggling with reading. It's being called a third-grade reading gate.
"We are proposing a third-grade reading gate, which means that we make sure students are prepared before we pass them through to the fourth grade," Lee said.
The idea is already getting criticism.
"We have seen this particular bill in action before in the United States in Mississippi, and it looks great on paper. Great on paper, but what it is smoke and mirrors," State Rep. Vincent Dixie, (D) Nashville said.
Dixie worries about the bills that will be taken up this week. Another talks about after-school learning mini camps.
"There's no safe way that I see to do in-person learning at this point. Kids' school day starts at the bus stop," Dixie said.
Lee said no teacher would face any penalization due to test results this school year.
"We are proposing additional funding through both an appropriation bill this week and our upcoming budget to give a pay raise to every single teacher in Tennessee," Lee said when talking about teacher pay.
For Speaker Sexton, he said it's about getting kids caught up. He told News4 action has to be taken now, or students will get further behind.
"At some point, you have to have a line in the sand. We can continue passing kids who aren't reading proficiently. We know every year we do that the further they get behind, which then limits potentially where they go to work or how they interact or where they go to college," Sexton said.
Another issue on the table is teacher raises. Those were taken out of the budget when the pandemic hit.
The plan is for the session to go through Friday.
There hasn’t been a special session in January during an odd-numbered year since 1861. Odd-numbered years are the convening year of a new Tennessee General Assembly.