Capitol Hill Update from State Representative David Byrd: October 14, 2020

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   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. Public Chapter 527 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.

   New law seeks to address shortage of teachers — 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.

   Public Chapter 587 authorizes the commissioner of education to grant a waiver to a requesting LEA exempting them from 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 teachers.

   Legislation calls for Commissioner of Education to develop transition plan for ASDs — Legislation requiring the Commissioner of Education to develop a transition plan for the return of schools in the state’s Achievement School District (ASD) to their local school districts was passed in 2020. Public Chapter 777 calls for the Commissioner of Education to develop a plan to transition the schools back to local education agencies by 2024-2025 and to submit it to the House and Senate Education Committees by January 1, 2021. It follows an announcement by Commissioner Penny Schwinn earlier this year regarding the transitioning of ASD schools back to their local districts.

   The ASD was established as a local education agency within the Tennessee Department of Education by the Tennessee First to the Top Act in 2010, with schools launching in 2012. The act gave the Department of Education authority to move schools in the bottom five percent in achievement in Tennessee into the ASD to help improve student progress. Since the district has been in place, some ASD schools have done well while others have not. 

   The legislation gives lawmakers the information needed to ensure that policy decisions made provide students in the ASD with the best opportunities to succeed as the transition plan is developed. 

   As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice on Capitol Hill. If there is ever any issue I can assist with, please reach out to my office by calling 615-741-2190 or emailing me at rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov.