The top Republicans in the Tennessee House and Senate have filed a bill that would take away state funding from schools who choose to continue virtual instruction.
The measure is meant to push school districts to go back to in-person learning — an issue that has had the support from Gov. Bill Lee and other Republicans in the state.
The bill (HB7021/SB7024) spells out that public charter schools or school districts serving kindergarten to eighth grades that do not provide a minimum of “70 days during the 2020-2021 school year no later than June 30, 2021; and for the full 180 days for classroom instruction in the 2021-2022 school year,” could be punished.
Under the proposal, the commissioner of education would have the discretion to “withhold a portion or all of the Tennessee BEP funds” that the district or public charter school is otherwise eligible to receive.
In an interview with WPLN News Wednesday, House Majority Leader William Lamberth said he is sponsoring the bill because some students are not getting a quality education.
“I just want to make sure that every kid has an opportunity for a great education and right now in some districts they simply do not because the in-person option is not there,” Lamberth said.
He added that he hopes no school districts loses funding. When asked if this was the only way to push districts to go back to in-person learning, Lamberth said he’s “open to any suggestion in any way that will get our schools back open.”
Gov. Bill Lee’s office did not say whether he agrees with defunding schools for choosing to stay virtual due to the pandemic. Instead, his office said “he will evaluate this bill as it moves through the legislative process.” But he opened this week’s special session on education with prepared remarks that criticized districts that have remained virtual.
The Tennessee Department of Education deferred specifics comments on the legislation to the governor’s office.
“The department is prioritizing the administration’s legislative proposals on learning loss, literacy, accountability, and teacher pay,” a spokeswoman for the agency said in a text message.
One of the school districts that have opted to stay virtual is Metro Nashville Public Schools. In a statement, superintendent Adrienne Battle said the district made the decision after taking into consideration rising COVID-19 metrics in Davidson County.
“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,” Battle said.