We get it. Life is about change. We know that to have growth, change must occur. Sometimes we can anticipate it, and other times change happens without warning. Many people spend a lot of energy attempting to avoid change. We ask regularly, “How do we navigate change?” My answer is head-on. We must innovate to survive both personally and professionally.
We will soon see some changes in education. A great many things keep happening in state government, some good, some bad, and some where we wonder why they just do not enforce the laws that are already on the books.
We are nearing the end of the legislative session in the Tennessee General Assembly. The priorities and emphasis on education have been strongly molded by three critical issues: the pending changes in the state funding formula, school safety, and third-grade retention. Other issues have emerged, but those three issues dominated the discussions.
Looking at funding, the state has been reluctant to address anything impacting the new Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement formula. One of the exceptions has been that Governor Bill Lee has proposed bringing the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 by 2027. It is a step forward and something universally recognized by stakeholders as needing to happen. We can all agree more needs to be done for salaries, especially for the teachers already in the trenches doing the work.
School safety has been a concern for years in Tennessee, and we are grateful that the Lee Administration has kept it as a priority. Our only concern has been the lack of advocacy for on-site law enforcement officers, which could provide an immediate response to any school-related emergency and could be the difference between life and death, with zero wait time. School safety is a community responsibility. Law enforcement is normally better equipped than an untrained educator to oversee the safety and security of schools. Our General Counsel Mike Sheppard, and educators Stacia Anglin and Kyle Mallory addressed this in the Tennessee General Assembly.
The third-grade retention legislation had debate and discussion in the media, by stakeholders, and by policymakers. The Department of Education and the Governor’s Office wanted no change. We collaborated with legislators and read all the amendments, following the process. It became obvious that themes were emerging. Chairman White and Chairman Cepicky (HB 0437) in the Tennessee House, along with Chairman Lundberg in the Senate (SB 0300) incorporated our concerns into their legislation. We appreciate their efforts.
This led to two changes worth noting: 1) Currently, student retention is based strictly on the state's annual T-CAP test, but legislation we worked on will now allow schools to include state screener tests in this decision. 2) Schools can now help a family file a waiver if the parent gives them written permission. This is all the change likely for this year, with additional changes in the future.
Legislators must show citizens that government can work, can solve problems, and focus on the needs in people’s lives. There are challenges that the government often tries to solve which cannot effectively be addressed by the government alone. We need more parents and educators involved in the process, especially in education.
Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee