Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley 1-15-20

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    Preview of the 2020 Session of the 111th General Assembly: Education

   The General Assembly will convene on January 14th to begin the 2020 session. The state budget, education, rural economic opportunities, criminal justice reform, healthcare, jobs, and continuing efforts to curb opioid abuse are among a host of issues expected to be on the agenda. Here is a look into the important issues and legislation that will come before lawmakers this year involving education. I look forward to representing the 28th District again this year.

  Vocational Education – Education improvements will be a top priority for the General Assembly during the 2020 legislative session with a focus on building tomorrow’s workforce.  Vocational education was the centerpiece of Governor Bill Lee’s 2019 legislative agenda, as the General Assembly passed several major laws to help prepare students for 21st century jobs. This includes the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) Act to develop work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities through regional partnerships. Expect the General Assembly to build on this work in the upcoming legislative session by continuing to enhance vocational, technical and agricultural education in Tennessee public schools. 

   STEM — Among initiatives to increase work readiness is a goal to triple the number of Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM)-designated public schools by 2022 and to develop at least 100 new middle school STEM programs. Legislation was approved last year to advance efforts to promote STEM education. Expect discussion in 2020 to further this goal, including a discussion on forming an enhanced relationship with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory that focuses on gifted students in the sciences. 

   Qualified teachers will also be needed to accommodate this growth and to teach work-based learning. Other focuses are on advanced computer science courses through STEM teacher training, and expansion of post-secondary STEM opportunities in high school through increased access to dual college credit.

    3rd Grade Reading Literacy – This legislative session will also see proposals to help ensure that 3rd grade students are proficient readers and are on grade level before they enter the 4th grade. Studies show that if students are not prepared when they enter 4th grade, much of the curriculum they will be taught will be incomprehensible. Currently, only 32.8 percent of 3rd – 12th grade students are reading proficiently. In order to see steady improvement, Tennessee districts must be equipped with high quality materials, implementation tools, shared learning networks, improved dyslexia screenings, and high quality professional coaching supports.

    BEP funding/ Teacher Pay — The legislature will likely continue efforts to make Tennessee a top state for attraction and retention of K-12 educators. Since 2011, Tennessee has invested $559.1 million in teacher salaries.

    Accountability – Look for legislation that will maintain strong oversight and accountability for schools and districts through a state accountability model that is transparent and easy to understand. The A-F model aligns Tennessee with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. Any changes made to the accountability model will include ample opportunities for stakeholder feedback.

    Higher Education / Credit Alignment – In higher education, there will be continued emphasis on increasing the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees or credentials. Aided by TN Promise and TN Reconnect, which are national models for providing access to tuition-free education, the “college going” rate has risen dramatically from 53.8 to 62 percent since 2007. This enhances Tennessee’s ability to meet its “Drive to 55” target of equipping 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate by the year 2023, two years earlier than the initial goal of 2025.

    Tennessee’s Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) and community colleges complement efforts made by the state’s four-year higher education institutions in reaching this goal.  Through their workforce development mission, TCATs help businesses and industries satisfy their need for a well-trained, skilled workforce that can compete effectively in the global marketplace.  One issue up for discussion this year to help students achieve their dreams of a college degree is how to better align credits earned in the Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) for transfer to four-year institutions. 

   Likewise, the state’s community colleges provide a vital link in connecting students with tuition-free opportunities to receive a degree or certification. The colleges also provide qualifying high school students with an opportunity to receive dual college credit, which gives them a head start on receiving their post-secondary degree. The legislature will continue to look for ways to enhance these programs and help Tennesseans receive a high quality job.

   Campus Security – Another higher education issue expected to be examined is campus security. During Governor Bill Lee’s budget hearings in November, $10.5 million was requested to address safety and security at the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs). The money would help provide a security presence at each TCAT campus. Additional funds have also been requested to boost safety at higher education campuses statewide.