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2023 Legislative Session Preview
Vouchers, 3rd Grade, and Book Banning
Today is the first day of the 2023 session of the General Assembly. You can count on The Education Report to provide detailed coverage of key education issues as they develop during the session. If you’d like to support the work of defending public education through advocacy journalism, click on the subscribe button below and choose one of options. Your paid support allows me to devote time and attention to the education issues facing our state. Whether you are a free or paid subscriber, I appreciate your support and ask that you share this publication with those you think may be interested.
Three key issues will likely get most of the attention on education policy this session. These are vouchers, the state’s third grade retention law, and book banning. Here’s a brief breakdown of each:
First, school vouchers. Gov. Lee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program was allowed to begin this year even as legal challenges continue.
While the program is initially confined to Memphis and Nashville, lawmakers are now seeking to expand it - at least to Chattanooga, and possibly to more districts.
Now, Chalkbeat reports that Hamilton County state Senator Todd Gardenhire has introduced legislation that would expand the program to schools in Chattanooga.
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican, wants the legislature to expand the eligibility criteria for the education savings account program to include students in districts with at least five of the state’s lowest-performing schools, as identified in the last three “priority school” cycles since 2015.
Under those criteria, Hamilton County Schools, which is based in Chattanooga, would qualify
Make no mistake – the ultimate goal is full privatization of public education in Tennessee. It has been Gov. Lee’s goal all along.
Expect a serious fight over expansion as rural Republicans have historically joined with Democrats to oppose vouchers.
The state has a new 3rd grade retention law taking effect this year.
Educators and education advocates (who weren’t consulted about the law) say its impact could be “devastating.”
One middle Tennessee mom says she was devastated when she learned of Tennessee’s new third grade retention law that goes into effect this year. The law requires that any third-grade student who scores at “below expectations” or “approaching expectations” on the state’s TNReady test in reading be held back unless they complete summer school and possibly enroll in a tutoring program during the school year.
Nearly 70% of all Tennessee third grade students score at that level on TNReady in any given year. In other words, even if a majority of them complete the summer program and participate in tutoring, a significant portion of third grade students will be forced to repeat third grade in 2023.
There has been some talk about modifying the law as the state has provided zero funding to districts in order to implement it. However, there’s some debate as to how serious education policymakers are about making any substantive changes:
Here’s more from Nashville’s WKRN:
When asked if he would consider adding funding to this bill to support schools with tutoring efforts and summer programs, White again expressed a willingness to talk about it.
“That is one of the big objections. We can look at this come January and modify the law if we think that’s what needs to be done,” he said.
That’s an interesting answer. White is not committing to providing funding or support to districts – only to “looking at” the law and the current objections. A more prudent approach would be to work with Gov. Lee to secure dedicated funding. Or, even, to change the law in such a way that districts get the supports/interventions/funding BEFORE any penalty hits students in terms of retention.
A new law about the review and removal of library books has been causing a stir in some districts. School boards are spending hours in public hearings and in some cases, books are being removed from school libraries. This may lead some lawmakers to revisit this law and make changes. Or, it may not. Expect the challenges districts are facing to at least be a topic of discussion.
A story out of Wilson County notes:
The Wilson County School Board this week voted to remove two books from school libraries following a hearing on the content of the books and whether they were appropriate for a high school audience.
The books are “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins and “Jack of Hearts” by L.C. Rosen. The board determined that the content of the books was not appropriate for students in high school and therefore should not be available in any Wilson County High School library.
The board had an option to label the books “mature” and only available to students who had parental permission. The board rejected that option and chose to completely remove the books from all libraries in Wilson County Schools.
While these legislative battles are playing out, Hillsdale College has made application to open charter schools in five Tennessee counties. Those fights will go to local school boards first, then likely the State Charter Commission.
Here’s more on Hillsdale’s Tennessee mission: