Statewide-funded Pre-K, teacher gun carry and student mental health among proposed state legislation
By Sabrina Bates
MVP Regional News Editor
Education is a large focus of more than 3,000 pieces of proposed bills filed last week by Tennessee legislators. From fully-funded Pre-K in all public schools to allowing educators to carry guns on school property and everything in between, most of the bills are now headed to committees to dissect each of the proposals.
House Bill 1034, introduced by State Rep. Johnny Shaw, would enact a Pre-K program at every public school system across the state. The program would still be voluntary for parents who have eligible children. If needed, a Local Education Agency (public school) could choose a partnership with local child-care agencies, profit and nonprofit, or Head Start programs to fulfill educational requirements. No tuition would be charged to families to enroll in the optional Pre-K program. Under the proposal, the state would provide LEAs with Pre-K program funding.
Another bill aimed to arm teachers was filed last week that would allow teachers to carry concealed handguns on school campuses if they have completed 40 hours of basic peace officer training in school policing and continue to receive the training each year. The same teacher would not be allowed to conceal carry at school-sanctioned events.
Two proposed pieces of legislation are aimed at increasing the number of school counselors and nurses in public and public charter schools across the system.
The addition of school counselors follows a recent report, The State of the Child 2022, released earlier this year by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth that ranked the state 41st in the nation for overall youth mental health. For the 2021-22 school year, 24 districts in the state did not meet the goal of having at least one certified counselor per 500 students.
The proposed bill would change the requirement to one full-time licensed professional school counselor for every 250 students of the Local Education Agency or one full-time position for each school and public charter school in a system, whichever is greater.
The proposed counselor positions would be funded under the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act.
Another TISA-funded proposal includes school systems employing a school nurse for every 750 students or system, whichever is greater. This would amend a bill that requires a system to have a full-time school nurse for every 3,000 students.
If passed, a proposed bill would give every school teacher, grades kindergarten through 12th, a $300 stipend for instructional supplies. Another bill would grant a $600 stipend to public school teachers. If either is passed, it would become effective for the 2023-24 school year.
A reduction in school suspensions or expulsions targeting students in Pre-K through 2nd grades is among proposed education bills. Students would not be expelled or suspended in those grades unless they pose a threat or danger to other students of school faculty.
Student mental health is the subject of a proposed bill that would allow students to take one excused “mental health day” during the academic year. With a parent note, students would be allowed to make up coursework.
Other proposed education bills center around student retention, particularly for third-graders, and one that targets retention of first-grade students, were also filed last week by Tennessee lawmakers.
See future editions of this newspaper to learn more about proposed legislation for the 113th Tennessee General Assembly.