Capitol Hill Update from State Representative David Byrd October 21, 2020

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   New law gives more flexibility to directors of schools regarding student discipline — The General Assembly passed a bill this year giving directors of schools in Tennessee more flexibility regarding discipline of students and the utilization of alternative schools. Attendance in an alternative school or program is mandatory for students in grades 7-12 who are suspended or expelled for more than 10 days if there is space and staff available, unless the student commits a zero tolerance offense. Public Chapter 603 gives the director of schools or their designee authority to determine whether to assign a student who has been expelled due to a zero-tolerance offense to an alternative school or program on a case-by-case basis.

   Students assigned to alternative schools are subject to all rules pertaining to the program. The legislation also gives directors of schools the authority to remove a student from an alternative school for violating the rules, or if the student is not benefitting from the program. This latter would only occur after all interventions available to help the student succeed in the alternative school have been exhausted unsuccessfully.  

   Truancy Intervention Plan law amended – Legislation was approved to streamline the process to admit a truant student back into school if the student’s parent or guardian is unwilling to cooperate with the school system. Previously, when a student has five or more unexcused absences the school system must place a student in a truancy intervention plan. Public Chapter 748 requires school districts to go through a three-tiered process in order to get a student back in school.

   The legislation passed by the General Assembly this year specifies that if a parent is unwilling to cooperate in a truancy intervention plan under tier one, which is classified as three unexcused absences, the school may refer the student to the juvenile court without having to complete the lengthy three-tiered process to reinstate that student in their school.

   New law promotes greater financial stability in budgeting for local boards of education – The General Assembly approved legislation designed to promote financial stability and accuracy for counties setting their budget revenue estimates for their Local Education Agencies (LEAs). In some cases in Tennessee, school boards have used different local revenue estimates than those provided by the county commission to set their budgets. At the recommendation of the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, Public Chapter 576 clarifies that the county legislative body has the duty to make revenue estimates to determine the level of revenue necessary for the county department of education to meet local match and maintenance of effort requirements. 

   The legislation also clarifies that the LEA shall prepare its budget according to the revenue estimates and determinations made by the county commission. These changes will help county governments and school boards work together regarding fair revenue estimates and budgets.

   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.