The Tennessee GOP, disturbed that the Nashville and Memphis public school districts have not returned to in-person classes, has filed a bill that would permit Tennessee’s education commissioner to yank some or all of a school district’s state funding if the district doesn’t offer at least 70 days of in-person K-8 classes by the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
The bill was filed by House Majority Leader William Lamberth and Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. “Funds also could be withheld if public schools don’t offer in-person learning options to elementary and middle school students all 180 days of the 2021-22 academic year,” The Tennessean reported.
The two school districts contain roughly one-fifth of all the state’s public school students. The money is allocated to districts through the Basic Education Program (BEP).
According to House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, the school could count a day as one of the 70 days even if not all students were enrolled; in-person instruction just needed to be an option for families. He stated, “This is not a punitive thing. … This is just us saying we think there needs to be an option to be in school,” he said. “I think everybody can meet that goal of 70, so we don’t think it’s out of the ordinary for the whole state to be able to meet that standard.”
“Some elementary and special needs students in Metro Nashville Public Schools returned for in-person instruction throughout September, October and November but switched back to virtual learning – as the rest of the district’s students have done since March – after COVID-19 cases worsened in the city this fall,” The Tennessean noted.
State education commissioner Penny Schwinn said on Wednesday she couldn’t “really speak to” the proposed legislation, adding that if it were passed, she would look to the state’s GOP governor, Bill Lee, for guidance.
Lamberth stated, “What my hope would be is that it wouldn’t happen. That they would follow through and abide by this statute and just offer an in-person instruction opportunity for their kids. If they just choose not to do so, then quite frankly, they don’t need as many BEP funds because they don’t have schools that are open.”
Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Adrienne Battle criticized the GOP’s move, saying,
Any proposal to take funding away from students and threaten the mass layoff of teachers in the 2021-22 school year is terrible public policy and does nothing to address any real learning challenges or gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, nor does it do anything to create a safer working or learning environment by slowing or stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
The Memphis school district is planning to start in-person learning on Feb. 8 at elementary schools and Feb. 22 at middle and high schools. Last week, the Nashville public schools decided to continue virtual classes after Martin Luther King Day on Monday.
Meanwhile, Nashville school board chair Christiane Buggs has come under fire because she had gone on a vacation to St. Lucia in early November as well as hosted a party at a Nashville bar and restaurant on the night of the 2020 election.
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