February 25, 2022 Legislative Update

This week's headlines include funding for K-12 public schools, computer science education, fentanyl test-strips, crash cushions, and more.

Gov. Lee, Commissioner Schwinn Unveil Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act

Proposed $9 Billion New K-12 Public Education Student-Based Funding Formula Puts Students at the Center

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn on Thursday released the details of the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act (SB2396) that would transition Tennessee’s K-12 public schools to a student-based funding approach. Starting in the 2023-24 school year, the TISA would invest an estimated $9 billion in education funding for the state, including state and local funds, which includes $1 billion in new recurring state funds and $750 million in one-time state funds this year. The TISA will update the way Tennessee funds public education for the first time in over 30 years to empower each student to read proficiently by third grade, prepare each high school graduate for postsecondary success, and provide resources needed to all students to ensure they succeed. Under the TISA, districts would receive more than they would under the BEP should enrollment remain stable. Access an overview PowerPoint presentation of the TISA and associated bill language here. To learn more about the student-based funding formula go here. “The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement formula will be a powerful tool the state can use to ensure we are putting all students on a path to success,” said Gov. Lee. “By serving our students well and giving the public greater insight into how their tax dollars are supporting students, the TISA represents an exciting opportunity to improve educational outcomes, strengthen our workforce and propel Tennessee forward.” “Updating our public education funding model is an investment in our state’s students and our state’s future,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Months of public feedback highlighted how committed Tennesseans are to strengthening how we fund public education, and the TISA puts the focus of education funding right where it belongs– on students.” The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement is a student-based funding formula that will include the following proposed investments for each of these components:

·$6.6 billion for base funding for every public school student.
·$1.8 billion in additional funding to be allocated based on weights to address specific student needs.
·$376 million in direct funding for students to receive additional funding allocations to support specific programs, like tutoring.
·$100 million in outcomes funding to be awarded based on achievement to empower schools to help all students reach their full potential.

Additionally, the TISA has reporting and district accountability requirements, including an annual TISA report delivered to the Tennessee General Assembly by the department and individual district-level accountability reports to be submitted by local school boards to the department to establish goals for student achievement in the current school year, explain how the goals can be met within the local budget, and describe how the local budget and expenditures for prior school years enabled districts to progress student outcomes.

Computer science requirement gets committee approval

Legislation that would require all Tennessee public schools to offer computer science training was approved by the Education Committee this week. “I think we’d all agree there are very few jobs out there today and certainly into the future where you will not be working with computers in some form or fashion,” said Senate Leader Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin). “Furthermore, we know from our employers in the state and jobs we’re recruiting — we have a real lack of people going into the computer science field. I think it’s good to get these kids at a younger age exposed to computer sciences and those interested may choose to pursue it further.” Senate Bill 2406 would require the State Board of Education to adopt comprehensive computer science education standards by the 2023-2024 school year. It would require every high school student to complete a full year of computer science education in order to graduate, starting with freshmen in the 2024-2025 school year. Additionally, every middle school student would be required to receive at least one course in computer science education while elementary students would be required to receive age-appropriate computer science education. At the high-school level, the legislation intends for the computer science requirement to be in lieu of — not in addition to — an existing math or science requirement to be determined by the Board of Education. Johnson said computer science courses may include rudimentary coding as well as lessons on how computers work and the technology behind them. Currently about half of Tennessee public schools offer computer science training, Johnson said. As stipulated in the bill, the other half of schools not currently offering such training would be provided the resources to do so for free by the Department of Education.

Bill proposes to legalize fentanyl-test strips

The Judiciary Committee this week approved a bill that would legalize fentanyl test strips to prevent drug overdoses. Such devices, which are used to determine if a sample contains the opioid, are currently classified as “drug paraphernalia” in Tennessee. “Senate Bill 2427 is very important for Tennessee, especially East Tennessee, where we’ve had a very large number of deaths from drug overdoses,” said co-sponsor Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville). “This bill legalizes a tool that can help save lives from drug overdoses in our state.” Briggs said studies show that when fentanyl test strips are distributed, roughly 80% of those who use them discover the drug they’re intending to use contains fentanyl, which can be lethal in small doses. The studies show many of those people then modify their behavior by discarding the drug, taking a smaller dose or pursuing other safety measures, Briggs said. Proposed by Gov. Lee, the bill would be in effect for three years, at which point lawmakers would determine if it has been effective and will remain on the books or not. Per the bill, fentanyl test strips would still be considered illegal drug paraphernalia if found on those involved in selling or manufacturing controlled substances. Briggs said 10 states have legalized fentanyl test strips, 15 other states never classified the devices as “drug paraphernalia” while another group of states is actively considering similar legislation.

Committee advances Hannah Eimers Roadside Safety Act

The Transportation and Safety Committee this week passed the Hannah Eimers Memorial Tennessee Roadside Safety Hardware Act. Senate Bill 1671 would require robust safety testing of crash cushions and guardrail end terminals located on public highways and roads. The bill is named after 17-year-old Hannah Eimers, who was tragically killed in 2016 in a car crash involving a guardrail on Interstate 75 in McMinn County. Bill sponsor Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) said there was no independent safety testing of the guardrail that killed Eimers. While that particular guardrail design has since been replaced throughout Tennessee, the bill ensures there is adequate safety testing moving forward. “We don’t want to have something like this happen ever again,” said Massey. “We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to have reliable testing and safety for our roads in Tennessee.” The bill requires safety testing according to the standards established by the federal highway administration. Also, if the manufacturer makes a change to a crash cushion or guardrail end terminal that’s been installed, it must notify the state for a safety retest.

Legislation would create Tennessee Center for Nursing Advancement

A bill advancing through the committee process would create the Tennessee Center for Nursing Advancement to address nursing workforce needs. The center would be within East Tennessee State University in conjunction with Ballad Health. Proposed by Gov. Lee, Senate Bill 2401 allows the center to collect and aggregate data on nursing turnover, reasons for nursing turnover and successful recruitment practices. The data would be published in reports while maintaining confidentiality, and could lead to future public policy considerations. There is currently no common database for nursing shortages. “The national shortage of nursing is a major public health threat,” said Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), a co-sponsor of the bill. “I am so proud that our region is leading the effort to develop data-driven solutions for the nursing shortage so we can take care of the people in our state. I believe the Tennessee Center for Nursing Advancement at ETSU will become a national resource.” ETSU/Ballad have already pledged $10 million for the startup of the center, and Gov. Lee’s proposed budget includes $1 million a year for management of the center. The Education Committee passed the bill this week. Next it will be reviewed by the Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

In Brief:

COVID-19 vaccine exemptions — The Senate also passed a bill that will codify medical and religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Last year, President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring healthcare workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The order, which was initially enjoined by federal courts before being upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, included provisions that compel applicable employers to honor religious and medical exemptions. Senate Bill 1823 proposes to codify into state law the executive order’s medical and religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccination mandates. The bill also goes a step further in assisting those seeking such an exemption by providing a state enforcement mechanism.
Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022 — The Senate this week passed the Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022 (Senate Bill 2407) requiring public schools to post online a list of the materials in their libraries. The bill also creates a required standardized review framework to ensure school library collections are periodically evaluated for age-appropriateness. Should a school find a material is not age-appropriate based on student, parental or employee feedback, then the school would have to remove it. The decision is ultimately up to the school in conjunction with the school board.