For nearly one million Tennessee students, school offers a happy, stable environment with opportunities for growth and success each day. That world was severely disrupted back in March with the unexpected closing of our schools due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tennessee teachers were challenged to urgently transform classroom learning to at-home learning while school administrators went to extraordinary lengths to meet the needs of students and families. As the father of two Sumner County students, I know first-hand how difficult it can be for parents to keep children engaged and learning during this pandemic. Learning can happen anywhere, but the value of face-to-face classroom interaction with teachers and peers cannot be understated.
Without a doubt, the pandemic now jeopardizes the tremendous progress we’ve made in education over the last decade. Our students have suffered from repeated school closures and transitioning back-and-forth from in-person to virtual learning. To reverse this trend, my colleagues and I in the House and Senate joined Gov. Bill Lee to put in place a plan to stop learning loss, strengthen foundational skills and ensure the academic success of our students.
Through House Bill 7004, we created the “Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act” which will provide $81 million through state, lottery and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dollars for interventions and support for struggling students in after-school and summer tutoring. This program will prioritize those students who score below proficient in reading and math. This law further strengthens our state’s 3rd-grade reading retention policies to ensure we are no longer promoting students who are not prepared.
We know that before the pandemic arrived, only a third of Tennessee fourth graders were able to read at grade level. That’s unacceptable by any measure and cannot continue. Kindergarten through third grade is a critical time for establishing a good foundation for reading and lifelong learning. House Bill 7002 provides training and support for educators to teach foundational phonics-based reading instruction for kindergarten through third grade. It establishes a universal screening method that parents and teachers can use to identify when students need help sooner.
Student assessments will be more important than ever before this spring. This data will help districts determine where our students are and what remediation may be needed to offset to learning loss. Students will take these standardized tests as they normally would at the end of the school year, however, House Bill 7003 waives accountability measures resulting from potentially poor test scores for 2020-21. This will provide meaningful flexibility for districts, teachers and students while preserving our state’s high standards.
My Republican colleagues and I support and value our teachers. It takes great passion and commitment to walk into a classroom every day and give your best. In addition to enhanced training and resources, the General Assembly will provide $43 million to local school districts to increase teacher pay.
Getting Tennessee students back on track is our highest priority. I’m so very proud of the hard work of our teachers and parents during this difficult year. I am thankful for their partnership in providing the very best educational opportunities for our students.
I am deeply grateful for the confidence and trust you have placed in me to represent you in the 44th District. Please continue to keep our neighbors, families and students in your prayers. I look forward to continuing our work together, building stronger schools and communities for the next generation of Tennesseans.
William Lamberth is the House Major Leader for the 112th General Assembly. He is also a member of the House Finance, House Government Operations, and House Calendar & Rules Committees, and House Criminal Justice Committees. Lamberth lives in Portland and represents Tennessee House District 44, which includes part of Sumner County.