Gov. Lee calls for special legislative session to focus on education, learning loss

TENNESSEE — An ongoing problem with the education loss of children getting worse due to the pandemic is the reason behind Tennessee Governor Bill Lee calling for a special legislative session.

Governor Bill Lee announced this week he’s calling state lawmakers into a special legislative session on January 19th. To address urgent issues facing Tennessee students and schools for the next school year.

“We need to address this historic challenge our kids face. It’s important and the special session has been called to address these issues early,” Lee said.

This loss only address issues that existed prior to the pandemic, where only one-third of Tennessee third graders were reading on grade level.

“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense disruption for Tennessee’s students, educators, and districts, and the challenges they face must be addressed urgently,” Gov. Lee said. “Even before the virus hit, and despite years of improvement, too many of our state’s students were still unable to read on grade level.”

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“I’m calling on the legislature to join us in addressing these serious issues so we can equip our hardworking educators and districts with the resources and supports they need to set our students on the path to success.”

The governor on a call with media Wednesday expressed the importance of calling the special session with the future of students in Tennessee in mind.

Preliminary data projects an estimated 50% decrease in proficiency rates in 3rd-grade reading and a projected 65% decrease in proficiency in math.

The issue existed prior to the pandemic, where only one-third of Tennessee third graders were reading on grade level.

“Learning loss is at record highs we know that. It’s not necessarily dealing with a data point. These are severe learning consequences if we don’t take swift proactive measures,” Lee said.

On the call, the governor spoke about how state education leaders will introduce a program called Reading 360 that will hopefully improve reading skills for students, specifically those in third grade and below.

“We know we haven’t been making the strives in literacy, COVID19 has exposed how poorly Tennessee students read. Particularly our youngest students,” Lee said.

During the special session, the legislature will be tasked to take up five key education issues: Learning Loss, Funding, Accountability, Literacy, and Teacher Pay.

On the call a state health officer also mentioned teachers moving up on a list to be vaccinated, a move that could possibly make teachers more comfortable returning to the classroom.

Monday, Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn more will be released about the Reading 360 program.

During the special session, the legislature will be tasked to take up five key education issues:

  • Learning Loss
  • Funding
  • Accountability
  • Literacy
  • Teacher Pay

The program will leverage one-time federal relief funding to support a phonics-based approach to literacy and will ensure Tennessee districts, teachers, and families are equipped with tools and resources to help students read on grade level by third grade.

“As we have heard from districts since March, students need their teachers and schools like never before,” Schwinn said. “No child’s future should suffer academically because of COVID-19. Not only as commissioner but as a mother of two school-aged children, I am grateful for the bold solutions that our governor and legislature will provide for our students and schools across the state and the department stands ready to work together to accomplish this mission-critical work.”