Statement on TN General Assembly Special Session: Keeping Equity at the Center of Policymaking
The devastating COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of millions of people across our country and world, and Tennessee is no exception. From Memphis to Morristown and all places in between, our state has weathered unprecedented challenges during the public health emergency that has upended virtually every aspect of daily life. These changes have been especially difficult for public schools, with our educators, students, and their families sharing in the collective hardships posed by school closures, quarantines, and varying levels of access to instruction through broadband and technology.
The pandemic has placed a disproportionate burden on families of color, and those from low-income communities, shedding light on the systemic barriers and educational inequities that existed prior to the arrival of the coronavirus. The Education Trust in Tennessee is committed to advancing policy solutions and closing long-standing opportunity gaps by partnering with community members, our elected leaders, and diverse stakeholders across the state to achieve improved outcomes for all students: regardless of their race, language of origin, or zip code.
We commend Governor Bill Lee for convening the General Assembly for a special session focused on overcoming the challenges of educating Tennessee’s students during the pandemic and beyond. The legislative package recently released by the administration will serve to advance foundational literacy instruction and tackle our state’s reading crisis, disrupt COVID-19-inflicted learning loss, and dedicate significant resources for Tennessee’s public schools and hard-working teachers, and it represents a step in the right direction.
Solutions to this literacy crisis will require political courage, creativity, and commitment, and a deep belief that all children are capable of achievement at high levels. The Governor’s investment in targeted interventions and support to bolster literacy rates is encouraging. These new proposals seek to amplify the impact of highly-effective teachers, high-quality tutors, and innovative expanded learning opportunities, while providing the resources to ensure every student in Tennessee has access to these critical programs. The implementation of these new initiatives will require thoughtful recruitment and deployment of staff, tutors and partners. We encourage the districts to meet this moment by leveraging educators of color as well as partners from the very communities most impacted by the literacy crisis.
It will be important to measure our success along the way, and know that the use of formative and summative assessments will help our state and districts leverage resources, training, and time more effectively. We recognize the importance of affording flexibility around accountability for both teachers and schools, but know that deliberate, ongoing technical assistance and feedback for districts will be essential in the months to come.
While Governor Lee and the elected leaders of the 112th Tennessee General Assembly move through this special legislative session on education, it is our hope that they will keep equity, access, and the promises of educational opportunity at the center of their decision making. The Education Trust in Tennessee stands ready to serve as a resource and partner, both during this special session and beyond, for the benefit of our state’s students and their communities that stand so much to gain from this important moment.