Three years ago, SCORE expanded its mission to encompass student success from kindergarten to career. At the end of this year’s legislative session, we see that Tennessee has advanced policy across the education continuum. In short, this session produced a lot of wins for students, including a strong COVID-19 recovery plan for students and institutions, wider college and career readiness opportunities, and a smoother path from high school to degrees and credentials.
The 112th General Assembly began with a special-called session focused on education that produced three student-focused initiatives. Because Governor Lee and legislators prioritized recovering instructional time lost during the pandemic, every district will offer students extended learning opportunities every summer. Extended learning matters because students who need the most help to reach our high expectations will receive the most support. With the Tennessee Literacy Success Act and The Tennessee Department of Education’s Reading 360 initiative, we are meeting the literacy crisis by grounding reading instruction in foundational skills. Early literacy matters because reading proficiently at the end of third grade is strongly associated with student success later in school, college, and the workplace. Policymakers retained meaningful measurement of student learning and the accountability framework while allowing flexibility for this unprecedented school year. Assessment and accountability matter because they illuminate how well we are helping all students meet high expectations.
These bold initiatives created positive momentum heading into the 2021 regular session. On multiple fronts, the General Assembly moved to improve the experience for students making the transition from high school to higher education. Bills to automatically enroll qualified students in advanced courses, double state-funded dual enrollment courses, and fund WorkKeys assessments that can lead to career readiness certificates have significantly expanded opportunities for all students.
As you may recall, SCORE has been a partner in two innovative postsecondary transition programs, Knox Promise and Nashville GRAD, to establish proof points for helping students persist in the first semesters of community college. Legislation that creates a four-year pilot to expand small nontuition grants to more community college students awaits the governor’s signature. Additional supports such as completion grants matter for students because they lead to smoother postsecondary transitions and persistence.
SCORE has been advocating since our founding in 2009 for data transparency and use, and two measures passed this year will give families better information for making postsecondary decisions. School districts will be required to advise middle school students and their families about available career and technical education courses that align with career aptitude results. Under the Students Right to Know Act, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission will launch a web-based platform to give families and students data for making informed decisions among college and career options.
SCORE was also focused this year on advancing equitable access to high-quality schools, including recurring appropriations to the Charter School Facilities Fund. Governor Lee proposed recurring funding, and the General Assembly passed a budget that provides $6 million in recurring funding as well as an $18 million one-time allocation.
Finally, it is important to note that we expect continued discussion of some legislative proposals after adjournment. This includes a bill passed on the final day – SB623/HB 580 – that prohibits certain concepts related to race, gender, and American history from being included in K-12 classrooms. We believe the bill will cause confusion for educators and be extraordinarily challenging to implement. Other topics that we expect to receive attention during the summer and fall include for-profit charter school operators, K-12 governance structures, teacher evaluation, and next steps around school turnaround.
Many of you offered significant help during this legislative session, and I want you to know how deeply we appreciate all that you do for students. I also want to give credit and thanks to the SCORE team members who focus on government relations, policy, and advocacy for working tirelessly on behalf of student-focused policies and skillfully against unhelpful proposals.
Passing good policy is only the beginning of improvements for students, so SCORE now will work to support strong implementation to improve outcomes for students from the time they enter their classrooms until the time they enter their careers.
David Mansouri is president and CEO of SCORE.