Voucher Train Headed to Chattanooga
It'll skip Knoxville . . . for now
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The Tennessee Voucher Train is headed to Chattanooga.
As the General Assembly finished its business this week, legislation that would expand the state’s fledgling voucher program (now confined to Memphis and Nashville) to Chattanooga was finally passed.
To be clear, it had been passed in the Senate before.
The House, however, was eager to get vouchers into even more communities - and so added an amendment that would add Knox County to the mix.
Knox County’s Senators, however, were not very excited. Republicans Becky Massey and Richard Briggs both have been consistent opponents of school vouchers.
They remained so even after the House action - and so, the Senate sent the original bill back to the House.
This time, the House passed the expansion ONLY for Chattanooga.
However, let’s be clear: The direction Tennessee is headed is toward vouchers - even if the engine didn’t have a full head of steam this year.
What’s Happening with Third Grade Retention?
Tennessee now has a third grade retention law - meaning that students who don’t hit a certain benchmark on the state’s 3rd grade TNReady test MUST repeat third grade OR participate in remediation, including a summer reading program. Some estimates suggest more than 60% of students would be subject to the law’s requirements and around half of those may ultimately repeat third grade.
The legislature did so SOME tinkering - but it won’t help this year’s kids.
Unless the full legislature intervenes before adjourning in the next few weeks, this year’s decisions on who gets held back or sent to remedial programs will be based solely on TCAP reading test results. That’s the current criterion under a 2021 law that lawmakers passed in response to pandemic learning losses.
If the proposed revisions are approved as expected, the state would widen criteria beginning with the 2023-24 school year to consider results from a second state-provided benchmark test, too — but only for third graders who score as “approaching” proficiency on their TCAP.
Those revisions ultimately did pass but will NOT impact this year’s students.
School districts across the state called on lawmakers to make changes for THIS YEAR - and the legislature responded by not doing so. Now, these districts are stuck with a bad law and little guidance for implementation.
The Knox County School Board has joined a number of districts across the state calling on lawmakers to make changes to the state’s new third grade retention law.
The Knoxville News-Sentinel notes that as written, the law could mean about 2700 third grade students in Knox County will be held back this year – unless they undergo summer tutoring and/or remediation during the 2023-24 school year.
What Happened with Guns?
The General Assembly adjourned without passing gun violence legislation - despite a school shooting in Nashville and days of protests by gun reform advocates at the Capitol.
Gov. Bill Lee did ultimately propose the adoption of a Red Flag Law - but no GOP member of the House or Senate rose up to sponsor it in the legislature’s final days.
Now, Lee is calling a special session to focus specifically on gun violence and public safety.
It’s not yet clear whether GOP lawmakers will back this effort pushed by their party’s leader.