Education top priority for Tennessee General Assembly

Special session to address learning loss in Tennessee

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The first thing Governor Bill Lee is tasking lawmakers to do this year is to come up with solutions to issues that have plagued Tennessee school children.

Before the pandemic, the Tennessee Department of Education reported only a third of the state’s fourth-graders read at grade level, and even fewer high schoolers do. Governor Lee said the pandemic has increased learning loss.

“We all know we haven’t been making the strides in literacy that we should be,” Lee said. “COVID-19 has exposed just how poorly Tennessee students read.”

The state said preliminary data shows a 50 percent decrease in reading proficiency rates in third graders and a 65 percent decrease in math skills since the pandemic began. Education is the first order of business when the General Assembly starts its 2021 session. Governor Lee has already called a special session on the topic on January 19.

“The special session is being called in order to address these issues early so we can implement them this year at least by the summer but certainly in this school year,” Lee said.

Along with addressing learning losses, Gov. Lee wants lawmakers to look at teacher pay. Earlier this year Lee proposed teacher raises, but that was abandoned as the pandemic took its economic toll across the state.

The Tennessee Department of Education plans to introduce a program called reading 360 which is a phonics-based program created with federal relief funding.

“It is programmatic support to complement any work the General Assembly would do related to policy,” Tennessee’s Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said.

Schwinn plans to release more details about the program on Monday.

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