Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley: Final Actions of 2020 Legislative Session

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   Although our 2020 legislative session was cut short due to the Pandemic, we were able to pass key legislation before we adjourned. Last update discussed the legislation passed this year involving corrections, the courts, and strengthening laws against violent offenders. Today I would like to discuss some of the significant bills that we passed through March 19th regarding Education. My office is always open to assist you with whatever needs you have, especially during this time. I am committed to serving District 28 and am available any time to provide assistance.

    Legislation requires creation of a bank of possible TCAP questions to help teachers prepare their students — Legislation that I sponsored this year giving teachers more tools to help them prepare their students for end-of-year assessments was approved during the 2020 session. The new law requires the Department of Education (DOE) to release a bank of possible Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) questions to local education agencies (LEAs) that are aligned to the current assessments. The bill requires the DOE commissioner to begin developing the question bank no later than July 1, 2020 so teachers will know what to expect on the TCAPs going forward.

    Legislation allows IEP students reasonable accommodations for state testing—The General Assembly approved legislation during the 2020 legislative session allowing reasonable accommodations for students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Effective March 20, the new law permits a student whose IEP provides testing accommodations to use the same accommodations when taking an assessment under the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) or an end-of-course examination, unless it undermines the relevant portion of the exam.

    Legislation to help address shortage of teachers unanimously passes Senate —  A new law has passed to help Local Education Agencies (LEAs) fund a “Grow Your Own” scholarship program. The program helps train high school students and non-teaching staff to become certified teachers in a three-year program at a higher education institution.

   The Grow Your Own Program has been implemented in Clarksville Montgomery County Schools in partnership with Austin Peay State University and has proven to be an effective pipeline for LEAs to fill open teaching positions. Last year, there were 1,123 teacher vacancies reported in Tennessee, leaving over 20,000 students without a certified teacher.

   The new statute authorizes the commissioner of education to grant a waiver to a requesting LEA exempting them the average class size standards to assist the LEA in funding a Grow Your Own Program. By increasing the class size across the district by one or two students, districts can significantly reduce the number of teaching positions and use those savings to develop their own teacher.

   New law helps ensure license revocation for teachers convicted of certain crimes — The 111th General Assembly approved legislation clarifying that licensed teachers convicted of certain crimes against children will have their license revoked by the State Board of Education. The criminal offenses that apply, after the teacher has exhausted or waived due process rights, include communicating a threat concerning a school employee, arson, aggravated arson, burglary, child abuse, child neglect, child endangerment, aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect, aggravated child endangerment, providing handguns to juveniles, sexual offenses, and violent sexual offenses. In addition, it includes teachers or administrators whose name is placed on the state’s Vulnerable Persons Registry or the state’s Sex Offender Registry, or those identified by the Department of Children’s Services as having committed child abuse, severe child abuse, child sexual abuse, or child neglect. I was happy to be a co-sponsor of this legislation.

    Legislation encourages school districts to provide students with a wide variety of career-based experiences — State lawmakers approved a new law this year encouraging Tennessee school districts to provide their students with a wide variety of career-based experiences to help them make informed decisions about future careers. The measure calls for more on-the-job training for students, as well as opportunities to build professional relationships and learn about workplace expectations. Examples are job shadowing, internships, and field trips to businesses. It also encourages school districts to work with local industry to help facilitate these opportunities.

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