In a session defined by a $1.5 billion revenue shortfall, extreme political polarization, bold advocacy and public pressure, EdTrust–Tennessee centered students, equity, and justice. We served as a trusted resource and advocacy partner to key legislators, community advocates, and 129 organizations convened in the Tennessee Alliance for Equity in Education and the Tennessee Coalition for Truth in Our Classrooms, we tracked 317 bills related to education and our shared 2024 Policy Agenda, advanced 11 high-impact equity proposals, and conducted over 80 legislative meetings. 

As we reflect on the outcomes of the 2024 legislative session and our collective advocacy efforts, here are the highlights: 

People Power Defeats Universal Private School Vouchers 

Education advocates across the state united in opposition against Governor Bill Lee’s $144.5 million universal private school voucher proposal. EdTrust–Tennessee was proud to join this collective movement and provide an influential suite of resources, including a webinar, legislative tracker, and impact map, to equip advocates with accurate, timely, and clear information. Despite his failure to get the bill passed this year, Governor Lee remains committed to resurrecting his universal private school voucher program in the 2025 legislative session. EdTrust–Tennessee is opposed to voucher expansion, and  will continue to advocate on behalf of students to ensure that every student in Tennessee attends a school that receives robust and stable funding and resources based on student needs.

There is Hope for More Equity-Centered Education Legislation

Centering educational justice, opportunity, and access, EdTrust–Tennessee presented the third annual cohort of Ten for Tennessee awards, which are ten legislative proposals that best advance educational equity for Tennessee’s students. While only one of the proposals became law, half received favorable votes from the House and Senate education committees, signaling that the committees are philosophically aligned with the policies even though the respective Finance, Ways, and Means committees in the House and Senate did not appropriate funding for the proposals. We look forward to working with our partners and bill sponsors next session to get the 2025 Ten for Tennessee bills across the finish line.

Our Collective Advocacy to Protect Diversity and Equity in Schools is Working

Tennessee has been a battleground for coordinated and consistent attacks on what students can learn and what teachers can say in our classrooms. However, in an unexpected trend this year, several key bills related to anti-DEI and censorship failed in their committees, including but not limited to: 

  • HB1948/SB2350 which prohibits public college campuses from maintaining DEI offices, personnel, training, activities, and programs
  • HB1632/SB1858 which gives parents the right to sue public schools over the enforcement of the Age Appropriate Materials Act of 2022
  • HB1661/SB2173 which allows constituents to remove library materials located in school and public libraries if they collect a required number of signatures on a petition 

The bold and strategic advocacy of students, teachers, and community stakeholders, including the 42 organizations in the Tennessee Coalition of Truth in Our Classrooms, influenced this shift in policy making. To review final bill status and understand implications of the censorship legislation that passed, check out the advocacy toolkit, Know Your Rights: Your Guide to Understanding the 2024 Education Censorship Bills in Tennessee event recording and resource document from the Tennessee Coalition of Truth in Our Classrooms.

We Can Better Influence and Inform Policy Decisions When We Work Together 

EdTrust–Tennessee offered a variety of advocacy opportunities to engage at the legislature this year, including our Alliance’s annual Day of Education Advocacy. This year, nearly 100 adult and youth advocates gathered on the Hill to engage in impactful programming, strengthen our partnerships, and most importantly, advocate for educational justice in our state’s halls of power. This year, we also supported eight organizations in our Alliance to launch campaigns that inform and influence positive policy change around our shared priorities and policy agenda. These campaigns ranged from investigating effective strategies for the recruitment, preparation, and retention of teachers of color to changing perception of students with behavioral needs. 

As we move beyond this legislative session, we transition our advocacy efforts toward the 2024 election season where 91 incumbents in Tennessee’s legislature, which is the only elected, state level, policy making body for education in Tennessee, face challengers in the primary and general contests.

Memorable Moments in the 2024 Tennessee Legislative Session

January 2024

  • The 113th General Assembly reconvenes for the 2024 legislation session 
  • The House approves a controversial rules package in a 70-19 vote 
  • Senators and Representatives appointed to the Joint Working Group on Federal Education Funds release separate reports due to an inability agree on joint recommendations
  • Legislative offices closed due to impact of winter storm

February 2024

  • Governor Lee hosts his 2024 State of the State address
  • Neo-Nazis march through downtown Nashville
  • Three universal private school voucher proposals representing the administration, the House, and the Senate are introduced for consideration by the General Assembly

March 2024

  • The K-12 Subcommittee considers all legislation related to school safety. These proposals are largely seen as a reaction to the tragic 2023 shooting at the Covenant School. 
  • By passage of HB1739/SB1596, Tennessee State University Board of Trustees was vacated and reconstituted with appointments from Governor Lee

April 2024

  • Governor Lee’s FY25 budget passes the House and Senate chambers
  • The universal private school voucher proposal, HB1183/SB503 quietly dies in the respective House and Senate Finance Ways and Means Committees 
  • HB1202/SB1325, the arming teachers bill, passed the House (68-28) and Senate (26-5) in a near party vote
  • The 113th General Assembly adjourned sine die, closing the legislature for business, on April 25, 2024