Momentum builds for early care and education in Tennessee
During the first year of the 113th Tennessee General Assembly, a large number of policy initiatives that align with Tennesseans for Quality Early Education’s Policy Blueprint 2.0 gained momentum. Below, we outline important legislative and budget items related to our priorities of high-quality birth-through-age-eight learning environments, child physical and mental health and development, and supported and supportive families and communities.
Promising Futures Early Learning Scholarship Program – HB785/SB750 (White/Massey)
TQEE’s signature bill this legislative session was to establish an early learning scholarship program that would make child care and preschool more affordable for working families. The bill was in part a response to the TN Child Care Taskforce which concluded in December 2022, having identified challenges of affordability, quality and access as key barriers to families securing early care and education that meets their needs.
Gaining quick traction and lots of momentum, the bill successfully passed through two key committees, Senate Education and House K-12 Subcommittee – two tremendous victories for a new first-of-its-kind investment in early learning in Tennessee. Promising Futures is on deck and awaiting its next vote in House Education Administration committee early in 2024, when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes for the second part of the 113th General Assembly.
Third Grade Retention / Early Grades Reading and Learning Supports
While the 2021 Third Grade Retention law will be in effect this year (see FAQs here), modifications were made through HB437/ SB300 (White) and HB68/SB249 (Lamberth /Johnson) that will go into effect for 2023-24 school year. The modifications provide substantially more interventions and supports for early grade students including:
- Making summer learning camps and after-school learning mini-camps available annually for students entering grades K-3 instead of only in 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.
- Ensuring that any student retained in grades K-3 is assigned a tutor through TN ALL Corps for the upcoming school year. It also authorizes Tennessee Department of Education to procure online tutoring supports.
The legislation allows additional pathways to promotion to fourth grade, including offering a state-provided benchmark test as an alternative to the TCAP test when a student scores in the 50th percentile, and by allowing LEAs to assist parents in the appeal process.
A Pre-School Commission was created through HB1150/SB355 (White / Haile). TQEE Founder and CEO, Blair Taylor, was among those named to serve. The work group is charged with conducting a needs analysis to determine gaps between demand for preschool and the availability of high-quality preschool opportunities, and further, to develop a strategic plan for preschool education.
Child Care Improvement Fund
The Child Care Improvement Fund, aimed at enhancing quality care in Tennessee and making child care more accessible for families, was established through HB634/SB543 (Moody / Jackson). The Department of Human Services will oversee $15M in grants that will be distributed to non-profit organizations that are creating new child care slots or improving existing child care facilities.
Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA)
Lawmakers approved an additional investment of $350 million into TISA, including $125 million teacher salary increases.
Paid Parental Leave for Educators and State Employees
Teachers, principals and other school personnel will now have 6 weeks of paid parental leave upon the birth or adoption of a child thanks to HB983/SB1458 (Sexton/White); as will all state employees, minus legislative staff, thanks Governor Bill Lee’s support of HB0234 / SB0276 (Lamberth/Johnson).
Tennessee Future Teachers’ Scholarship Act, White / White), was funded at $4.5M, creating a pilot scholarship program for students who enroll in an education preparation program and agree to teach in Tennessee for at least four years in areas where there are geographical or subject area teacher shortages. Investments were also made to support alternative pathways to teacher licensure, including funds for Grow Your Own programs.
TennCare got approval to spend $330M in shared savings from the Medicaid Wavier on Governor Lee’s Strong and Health Families initiatives. Among other initiatives, Tennessee will become the first state in the nation to cover the cost of diapers for TennCare enrollees for the first two years of life. TennCare will provide 12 months continuous coverage for children for the first year of life, which will help ensure fewer lapses in coverage. Additionally, the one-year, post-partum coverage expansion will be made permanent.
School safety and mental health
Largely as a result of the horrific and tragic Covenant School shooting, increased investments were made in school safety and mental health in Tennessee. $140M will ensure that every public school has an armed school resource officer. Additional funds will hire 1 Security agents to serve schools statewide. $50M in grants will be made available to public and private schools wishing to upgrade parameter security. $8M will expand School-Base Behavioral Health Liaisons. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse also had a win in achieving provider rate increases of $18M.
As we look toward 2024, when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes for the second part of the 113th General Assembly, our work continues with commitment to ensuring all children have the strong foundation they need for a bright future.