We put an emphasis on education during the 2019 session with the appropriation of funds in the budget, as well as the passage of key legislation to improve education for all Tennesseans. Legislation to strengthen civics and agricultural education were among the bills that were passed this session. As a representative of the 28th district and a member of the Senate Education Committee, I strive to stay involved, support, and propose legislation that will continue to advance opportunities for the youth in our state. It is important to provide the best opportunities for the future leaders of this state and I believe the legislature takes great strides each session to do that.
Governor’s Civics Seal – The General Assembly approved three new laws this year to boost civics education. This includes legislation which recognizes public schools and local education agencies (LEAs) for implementing high quality civic education programs that prepare students for career and civic life. The measure builds on Tennessee’s academic standards regarding the formation of the state and federal government, our nation’s democratic principles, practices, and significant events, and individuals responsible for the creation of our foundational documents. It also calls for opportunities for students to engage in real-world civics learning activities.
Civics Exam – Another civics education law passed during the 2019 legislative session raises the minimum number of questions asked on the civics exam administered to high school seniors from 25 to 50. It requires that at least 29 questions on the test must be related to American government, 16 to American history, and 7 to integrated civics. Under the new statute, schools in which all graduating seniors receive at least an 85 percent score or higher on the test would receive an additional recognition by the Department of Education as a U.S. Civics All-Star School.
Civics Education / 19th Amendment – In addition, legislation was approved this year which calls for students in Tennessee’s K-12 schools to receive instruction on the 19th Amendment, including Tennessee’s pivotal role in the events leading up to ratification. The new law comes ahead of the centennial celebration of Tennessee’s ratification of the amendment in August 2020.
The legislation calls on the Department of Education to collaborate with appropriate groups to develop and promote instruction related to women’s suffrage. They will also be responsible for distributing instruction materials electronically to Local Boards of Educations (LEAs), as well as provide resources to aid educators via their Internet website.
Agriculture Education and Youth Participation Task Force – Legislation seeking to enhance agricultural education in Tennessee was passed this year establishing the Agriculture Education and Youth Participation Task Force. The goal is to prepare students for higher education and success in the Tennessee’s agricultural sector.
The 11-member task force will analyze and make recommendations related to agricultural education in Tennessee, emerging fields in the industry, and the impact of new technologies on agribusiness. They will also look at how Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education can be aligned with the state’s agricultural education programs. In addition, the group will consider ways to integrate agricultural education and career readiness goals into the Tennessee Pathways Initiative. The Pathways Initiative allows schools to increase the variety and quality of the options and opportunities available for high school students, so they can transfer seamlessly into college or the workforce.
Aptitude Assessment – SB809 passed requiring that seventh and eighth grade students take a college and career readiness aptitude assessment to help them prepare for a future track towards success. Current law states that all public middle schoolers or ninth graders are administered an interest or career inventory to assist students in determining their interests as they consider future career decisions. The new law adds an aptitude assessment for seventh and eighth graders to help students realize skills and attributes that might direct them towards a career and coursework that capitalizes on their strengths.
Release Time Classes – SB1373 passed this year expanding the opportunity for students to take release time classes in religious and moral instruction. A 2015 law allowed such courses to be taught outside of school, so long as the student was not given any academic credit. The new statute amends this law by allowing a Local Board of Education (LEA) to award one-half unit of elective credit to students completing a release time course in religious moral instruction. It also requires the board to develop a neutral, secular evaluation of the offered program to determine whether elective credit may be awarded.