State Sen. Shane Reeves and State Rep. Pat Marsh were invited to give a legislative update Thursday evening to Bedford County school board. One topic of high interest was the third grade retention law, which the legislature passed into law last spring.
It has not gone over well since with parents and educators. It is being deemed as unmeasurable and potentially very costly to school systems.
Still, it’s current state law.
A new session is about to open in Nashville, so school board members were anxious to hear what’s about to change, or not change, about third grade retention this legislative session.
Before he got to third grade retention, Marsh explained that TISA or the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement formula is a project that the state has worked on for over a year. He said likely, it was the biggest bill to be approved all year long
TISA will replace the 30-year-old Basic Education Program or BEP formula. There are a lot of educators and others in the state applauding that measure.
Marsh said the house education committee, educators, supervisors and students have all given their input to the legislature. Marsh added that the bottom line is that TISA was something that Gov. Bill Lee, recently re-elected for a second term, was passionate about getting passed. He added how the governor wants to “hopefully taking education to new heights in State of TN.”
School board members learned that the state is going to put in an extra $1 billion dollars into education in 2022. Bedford County, he advised, is going to get $11 million.
OK, what about third grade retention?
Marsh said the state realizes there are concerns and “heartache” due to the new third grade retention law. To catch folks up, the state is planning to retain those third graders who do not meet literacy or reading standards by school year end.
“I talked to the people . . . said we’re going to fix it,” advised Marsh. He said he’s not sure what that means, but he’s assured that qualified people are working on possibly an amendment for this legislative session.
“I think there is a way to fix it,” encouraged Marsh, who was recently re-elected to the state legislature. He said the solution likely won’t satisfy everyone, but it has to be better than what’s currently on the legislative books.
With that, he gave more “good news” about state funding. Marsh said there has been appropriated at the state level $125 million in teacher raises. Every high school, he said, is set to get millions to invest into its career and technical education programs (CTE.) There will be a half million dollars given to all junior highs for CTE and about 281 Tennessee high schools will receive an extra $1 million.
Bill sponsor Reeves comments
With his name on the support of the third grade retention law, Sen. Reeves had to make some comments. He said it’s all a product of the COVID-19 situation.
“It’s good to be talking to people, without a mask on,” he shared. The room atmosphere seemed to lighten.
Reeves then said, obviously, there were unintended consequences associated with a lot of bills recently passed on the Hill. “Nobody wants third graders held back. That was never the intention.”
Marsh said the state is trying to amend its spring action. He told the board to expect good things the first of the year.
He said based on research, if there is a lack retention in subjects such as reading by the time students finish third grade, learning is lost. Reeves said the state is simply trying to impress upon everyone the importance of learning in K-3 grade levels.
Marsh advised that there has been “passing of trouble makers,” throughout the school system. That is, those who refuse to put forth an effort toward their public education. “If anything, this has done, it’s made us all aware that we’ve got a problem . . . should all be doing something about it.”
Reeves added, “Not every school district is Bedford County. Look at all the excellence you have here tonight . . . .”
The third grade retention law applies to all 95 counties. Reeves stated that it’s unfortunate that not all school systems are doing as well as Bedford County.
“Congratulations . . . great number of Level 5 teachers,” said Marsh. “That’s unbelievable and some of them multiple years.
Michael Cook gave credit to teachers and administrators from Bedford County for recent state successes. He said the board is blessed to have them representing Bedford County and students’ best interest.
Board member Shana Boyette is now serving as the legislative representative. She replaces Diane Neeley, who held the position for many years and was recently elected to Bedford County Commission.
Chairman Cook asked the state officials if they would return to a future school board meeting, once the new session gets underway. Board member Forsee thanked them for every dollar appropriated to Bedford County.
Forsee followed up with, “One thing that we need, you cannot provide, is time . . . . “There’s so many layers of expectations upon teachers. He said he is at a loss for answers and is looking to the state for solutions.
“If we can take something out, to put more time for reading in, (within 450 minutes a day) . . . There is just so much time that we have with the students. There has to be an adjustment.”
Forsee said he’s not trying to minimize state standards, but he said realistically, there’s only so much that can be done in 7.5 hours a day. “Each expectation has legitimacy and need, but some time prioritizations should be adhered.
If we can take something out of a teacher’s day . . . from the state level, to give them more time to teach, that would be highly appreciated.”
Marsh advised that he and other leaders at the state level understand, but explained there are numerous federal regulations which sometimes tie their hands at the state level. He said Bedford County educators are appreciated. “I appreciate all the teachers we have in the State of Tennessee. My hat’s off to you.”
With that, the school system’s annual compliance report—one which certifies the school system is in compliance with all state and federal regulations—was brought to the table for approval by superintendent Garrett, who explained to the board that all is well in the area of compliance for Bedford County. A motion was made to approve.
In other school board action:
•The board organized its collaborative conferencing team to meet with Bedford County teachers on upcoming contract negotiations.
•Approved disbursement from the CTE Perkins Reserve. Garrett said the state recently presented numbers. The plan is to use those funds to purchase cosmetology equipment needed for Community High school’s new CTE program. The new CHS wing, currently under construction, will serve as classrooms for CTE. As well, Shelbyville Central High School will receive Perkins funds to purchase aviation maintenance equipment for its CTE program.
•Plans were announced for a Dec. 1 study session at 6 p.m. at the Central Office. Bell construction and Kline Sweeney architects will discuss the construction of the new elementary school.
•Approved for next month’s board meeting to be held 6 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Central Office on Madison Street at 6 p.m. This is expected to be a brief meeting, Cook said.