Bill Watch is a service of the Knoxville Bar Association Legislative Committee. During each week of the legislative session, the KBA will distribute an updated report, through the support of Stephanie D. Coleman of Owings, Wilson & Coleman. The report will indicate progress and recent actions taken on the bills of interest to KBA members.
You can also get information about the General Assembly, including the text of bills and floor and committee calendars, by accessing the legislative web site at www.capitol.tn.gov.
Organizational Week (January 12 – 15)
TennCare/Medicaid Block Grant Waiver - In 2019, the General Assembly passed legislation calling for TennCare to negotiate with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for a TennCare block grant waiver amendment giving the state more flexibility. Over the past year, the state has been in negotiations with CMS on the agreement which was finalized by federal authorities earlier this month. This week’s approval of Senate Joint Resolution 25 authorizes immediate implementation of the ten-year agreement. The current five-year TennCare waiver agreement is set to expire June 30. The waiver agreement creates an opportunity for Tennessee’s success to be rewarded by achieving additional federal funding through shared savings. Priorities for program innovation include maternal health coverage enhancements, serving additional needy populations, clearing the wait list for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and addressing statespecific health crises. The shared savings provided under the waiver agreement will be accessed if the TennCare program maintains or improves quality of care utilizing metrics selected from CMS. If the state is unsuccessful in maintaining performance set by the metrics, its ability to access shared savings earnings will be reduced or eliminated. Under the plan, there will be no reductions in people served or benefits provided to enrollees. There will also be no reduction in provider rates or quality or access to care.
Special Session (January 18-22)
Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act — Senate Bill 7002 helps students by providing after-school learning mini-camps, learning loss bridge camps, and summer learning camps beginning this summer. It also creates the Tennessee Accelerated Literacy and Learning Corps to provide tutoring throughout the school year. The summer learning camps will offer a full day of instruction with a focus on English Language Arts and mathematics. Transportation and meals will be provided. The after school mini-camps, which will focus on STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), will also be available to students. Both of these programs are targeted for students in grades K-4 and will only be provided for summer 2021 and summer 2022.
The summer bridge camp is a four-week program which will begin in 2021 and every summer following for non-proficient and other priority students. The state will fully fund the learning loss remediation and student acceleration programs for all priority students who enroll and offer additional seats to other students based on availability or additional local funding. Teachers will receive at least $1,000 a week for staffing the learning loss bridge or summer learning camps, with stipends differentiated based on a variety of performance factors.
Tennessee Literacy Success Act – A second bill approved specifically targets literacy skills to get students on track in the early grades so they can become proficient readers by 3rd grade. Senate Bill 7003 calls for LEAs and public charter schools to use foundational literacy skills instruction with a phonics-based approach for early reading instruction. This is a method backed by research as the most effective way to teach reading to students in the early grades. School districts will develop a Foundational Literacy Skills Plan to articulate their strategy to improve literacy outcomes for their students in a transparent manner so parents are informed and can be engaged. The legislation also establishes a reading screener to identify when a student needs help before third grade, so they won’t fall behind. This includes help with dyslexia screening and other testing requirements. In addition, the bill calls for literacy training for teachers to improve the next generation of K-3 reading teachers. It requires educator preparation programs provide training on foundational literacy skills, as well as requiring K-3 teaching candidates to pass a reading instruction assessment.
Educational Hold Harmless - Senate Bill 7001 only allows for assessments to be used in evaluations if it results in a higher final score for the educator. While the legislation establishes the hold harmless provisions, the state will still require Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) testing for them to take effect. This ensures that while stakeholders are held harmless, parents and educators are still able to access assessment data to provide an accurate picture of where students are and what supports are needed to regain any learning that has been lost.
Teacher Salary Funding - Key legislation providing funds to Local Boards of Education to increase teacher pay was approved before adjournment of the 2021 special session on education. Senate Bill 7009 commits over $42.8 million to increase the salary component of the Basic Education Program (BEP) by 2%. These funds would provide an immediate pay increase for teachers and would be retroactive to January 1st. Appropriation of the funds address the need throughout the state to increase teachers’ salaries without putting a burden on LEA budgets by not requiring a local match to the dollars allocated.