Lawmakers approve learning loss, literacy bills

The Tennessee General Assembly approved a $160 million package of bills Thursday night and Friday morning, legislation aimed at tackling student learning loss during the pandemic, the state’s stagnant literacy rates and how schools will handle standardized testing after a year of academic disruptions. 

The education initiatives, introduced by Gov. Bill Lee, were finalized in a whirlwind, four-day special session that allowed lawmakers to quickly approve major programs for schools before taking on other bills. It was the third special session Lee has called since taking office in 2019.

But the warp-speed approval meant significantly less time to iron out the legislation and a truncated budget process compared to bills taken up during regular session.

Lt. Governor Randy McNally talks with Sen. Bill Powers during a special session of the Senate at the State Capitol Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.

The governor and legislative leadership previously said this week’s bills on literacy, upcoming standardized testing and summer remedial programs needed to be in place to allow school districts time to plan. 

In three separate bills, Lee and his Department of Education pushed to implement a new phonics-based reading program to help boost literacy rates; allocate resources for tutoring and summer programs to catch up children who are behind after months away from the classroom; and attempt to ensure educators aren’t punished for potentially poor standardized testing scores this year. 

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