Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday proposed new summer school and tutoring programs to catch students up from learning disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
He promised a pay hike for teachers, but did not specify an amount.
The governor also wants state testing to happen this spring — but only to determine how much students know after a year of uneven teaching and learning, not to hold teachers and schools accountable for the results. And he is asking for a new statewide emphasis on phonics-based reading instruction.
The details came in the first wave of bills filed in advance of a Jan. 19 special legislative session focusing on K-12 education.
“Educators across the state are working tirelessly to turn the tide for their students and help them regain critical math and reading skills,” Lee said in a statement. “We believe they should be compensated for their efforts and look forward to working with the General Assembly to provide funding for our teachers.”
The governor is expected on Friday to ask lawmakers for more money for teacher pay, likely by about 4%. That increase would match what Lee proposed a year ago but rolled back after the pandemic emerged and the state’s economy sputtered. He’s also expected to propose the same level of funding next year for schools that saw their enrollment decline this year.
The decisions will set the state’s policy agenda for students, educators, and schools for at least the rest of the public health emergency.
The summer school and tutoring proposals aim to help struggling students catch up on learning if they can’t read on grade level or are identified as needing intense academic help based on the state’s screening and intervention system launched in 2014.
“COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of education, and we are on the cusp of severe consequences for our students if we don’t act now,” Lee said.
The six-week summer school program would begin by June through local school districts and would be staffed by teachers getting paid a minimum of $1,000 per week.
The after-school tutoring program would launch in the fall, staffed by a corps of trained tutors that could include teachers or college students.
And because reading proficiency is the foundation for all learning and only a third of Tennessee third graders are reading on grade level, the governor wants to require all 147 school districts to adopt high-quality literacy programs that are based on phonics. That proposal aims to work alongside the state’s new Reading 360 initiative, which will invest $100 million of one-time federal funds in phonics-based reading programs, including new reading instruction training for teachers in the early grades.
This developing story will be updated.