Tennessee lawmakers threaten to pull funding if schools don’t reopen in-person learning

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Bring students back to class in-person or lose state funding. It could happen in Tennessee if a new bill becomes a law.

The new bill would require state schools to offer an in-person learning option for K-8 students for 70 days this school year and 180 days next school year. If schools don’t follow the requirements, they could lose a portion or all of their state funding.

Teresena Medlock is a mother and an advocate at the Memphis Lift, an organization that helps parents and students in Shelby County.

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“If we send children back knowing that we have a teacher shortage the possibility is that we have teachers not in the classroom and our children will still be in a virtual setting but in a school building,” Medlock said.

Shelby County Schools plans on starting in-person learning on February 8 for Pre-K through fifth grades and February 22 for 6 through 12th grades.

Since the very beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Joris Ray repeatedly emphasized his biggest priority is keeping students and staff safe.

However, during a special legislative session Tuesday, Governor Bill Lee called out schools that are not offering in-person learning right now.

“You can’t say follow the science and keep schools closed,” Lee said. “You can’t say I believe in public education and keep schools closed and you can’t say you are putting the needs of students first and keep schools closed.”

Dr. Ray responded on Twitter saying “We invite state leaders to step away from privileged podiums and try to understand the many concerns of our students, parents and teachers.”

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He goes on to say the tragic toll of this unprecedented pandemic continues to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities. And that they will continue to follow the science while they wait for vaccines to be prioritized for educators.

Medlock agrees with the superintendent.

She says instead of a rush to in-person learning, leaders should focus more on improving virtual learning before sending students back to school.

“We need to be attacking the learning loss even while we are in virtual learning,” she said. “We need to be focused on what needs to happen most but that’s not what’s taken place. We are more concerned with getting children back in the building.”

FOX13 asked the superintendent’s office about their thoughts on the new bill but Dr. Ray wasn’t available. We plan on speaking with him Thursday.

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