Saturday, March 02, 2024

Tennessee General Assembly Week 7 Recap

From Rep. Susan Lynn, March 2, 2024-

Rep. Susan Lynn
House Advances School Choice, Bolsters Public Education


Plan gives families the power to use their tax dollars to choose the best school that meets the needs of their child

House Republicans this week unveiled a sweeping proposal to improve education in Tennessee by expanding school choice opportunities for families and strengthening existing public schools statewide.

House Bill 1183, as amended, represents the culmination of months of diligent work by the chairs of the House education committees to ensure the needs of every student are met. The legislation advanced out of the K-12 Subcommittee on Tuesday after more than two hours of discussion.

“We have been listening to our teachers, our superintendents and our students all across the state,” said State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, who is guiding passage of the bill. “This legislation before us is an opportunity to rethink education in our state.”

The proposal would establish the Education Freedom Scholarships Act (EFSA), giving parents the power to use their tax dollars to choose the best school that meets the needs of their child. 

A total of 20,000 scholarships would be available to families for the 2024-25 school year. Priority would be given to students who are currently eligible for an Education Savings Account followed by those from households at or below 400 percent and 500 percent of the federal poverty level respectively. Recipients must be U.S. citizens and not enrolled in a homeschool program.

Growth of the EFSA program would be limited to 20 percent of the number of scholarships awarded during the previous year. The Department of Education would also be required to submit an annual report on the utilization of the scholarships.

“We’ve put caps on the growth of this to make sure that if it grows, it grows sensibly (and) it grows in a way that the General Assembly can afford as it moves forward,” said State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka. “It is driven by usage.”

Additional funding, more flexibility for public schools

Tennessee public schools will also benefit from House Bill 1183 through additional funding, reductions in testing and evaluations along with increased flexibility in various other areas.

“The bulk of this bill is what we’re trying to do for our public schools, because 90 percent of our children go to public schools,” White said. “We are trying to build up what our public schools are doing.”

The General Assembly in 2022 approved the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act, which overhauled the way the state funds education to prioritize the individual needs of students. The proposed base funding for each public school student in Tennessee for the 2024-25 school year is $7,075.

With House Bill 1183, the weighted allocation per student in small districts would increase by 3 percent while the amount for each student in sparse districts would increase by 1 percent. There would also be $75 in additional funding per student to address local school infrastructure needs. 

Additionally, the state would increase its health care plan contribution for districts from 45 percent to 60 percent. This would amount to an estimated $160 million in additional funding during the first year for districts to use at their discretion. The legislation would also reduce the number of K-12 standardized tests annually and align them more to federal requirements, adding approximately 300 hours of instructional time back into the classroom.

“Time is the most valuable asset for our teachers,” Cepicky said. “If we can put more time into the classroom and still be able to gather the data we need to make sure our students are progressing, we all win.”

Higher-performing teachers would be evaluated less frequently and license recertifications would occur every eight years instead of every five years under the proposal. Districts would also have increased flexibility regarding promoting students in grades 4 through 8. 

Other highlights of the legislation include:

  • Protecting public school scores from being affected by late-transferring students
  • Flexibility for districts to choose either a traditional 180-day school year or equivalent hours-based schedule
  • Increasing district improvement plan submissions to every three years
  • Preventing athletic recruiting by aligning with current TSSAA policies regarding transfer eligibility
  • Dissolving the Achievement School District in 2026

House Bill 1183 is scheduled to be heard in the Education Administration Committee on March 6.

House Approves Bill to Increase Private School Safety

The House of Representatives on Monday passed legislation aimed at increasing safety at more private schools in Tennessee.

House Bill 1631, sponsored by State Rep. Gino Bulso, R-Brentwood, allows a private school with students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade to adopt a handgun carry policy for its campus. 

“All of our children in public school or private school deserve to be protected,” Bulso said Monday. “The most dangerous place to be in Tennessee, or any other state in this country, is in a gun free zone, and… if private schools want to have an armed response at the school to protect children, they should have that ability.”

Existing state law only allows K-12 private schools to establish a handgun carry policy. The companion version of House Bill 1631 is still advancing through the Senate.

Tennessee Businesses Against Trafficking Program Launches

Members of the Tennessee General Assembly this week joined Secretary of State Tre Hargett and community advocates for the launch of a new initiative to combat human trafficking statewide. 

Created through the passage of legislation in 2023, Tennessee Businesses Against Trafficking engages corporations and private entities in voluntary efforts to identify, prevent and combat human trafficking in communities across the state. Participants will be able to identify the warning signs of trafficking and assist in the reporting of suspected criminal activity to the authorities.

“Through Tennessee Businesses Against Trafficking, businesses will be effective partners in the ongoing fight against trafficking crimes,” said State Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington. “While we have made considerable progress in Tennessee, we must all continue to do our part and stand with victims, survivors and their families.”

Participating businesses will adopt a zero-tolerance policy and participate in training, public awareness and education campaigns. They will also encourage employees to participate and share best practices that effectively combat human trafficking with the Secretary of State’s office.

Human trafficking is the second-fastest growing criminal industry in the United States, only behind drug trafficking, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. There have been cases of human trafficking crimes reported in all 95 Tennessee counties. Additional information about Tennessee Businesses Against Trafficking, including how to join the program, can be found online at

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