Are Tennessee schools going virtual?

·4 min read

Hello and welcome to School Zone. This is education reporter Meghan Mangrum.

It's been a busy week for educators, parents and reporters alike, so let's get right to the news.

Which Tennessee schools have switched to remote learning this school year?

Last week, I spent some time pouring through more than 110 requests submitted to the Tennessee Department of Education by schools and school districts hoping to pivot temporarily to remote learning.

The waiver requests are one of only two options districts have as they mitigate surging COVID-19 cases, high student absences and the ongoing teacher shortage. The other option? To close schools and send children home without any instruction.

My analysis for The Tennessean found a few things, here are some highlights:

  • More than 110 waiver requests had been submitted to the department as of Friday, Jan. 21.

  • Only 37 of about 140 school districts in the state (and 13 charter schools) have actually submitted a waiver request.

  • The majority of requests have been submitted since Jan. 1, 2022.

  • The majority of requests impact the youngest learners, including switching Pre-K classrooms to virtual learning.

  • Only two requests have been denied.

Find more details and the full story here.

Virtual learning debate — again — reaches the Statehouse

The debate over whether schools should be able to go virtual at all has renewed furor as Tennessee lawmakers introduce legislation related to virtual learning.

Last week, the Senate Education Committee advanced a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Michael Curcio, R-Dickson, that could make students eligible for education savings accounts, a type of school voucher, if their zoned public school did not offer 180 days of in-person instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But another bill has also just been proposed by Republican lawmakers that would actually give school districts up to 10 days of remote learning to use at school leaders' discretion in cases of extreme weather, an illness outbreak or other instances that might "endanger students or teachers."

And after months of state officials maintaining that entire school districts were not allowed to switch all schools to remote learning, the Tennessee Department of Education gave seven districts permission last week to do just that. In a de facto way.

The department approved waivers for all of the schools individually within those seven districts.

Education advocates to Gov. Lee: Invest additional $1B in school funding

Finally, ahead of Gov. Bill Lee's State of the State address on Monday, education advocacy groups across the state have released recommendations and policy agendas for education in Tennessee.

Last week, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) released four recommendations for Lee's ongoing school funding formula reform efforts — the top priority being a call for more money. A lot more money.

SCORE is calling for Tennessee to add an additional $1 billion in recurring funding to the nearly $6 billion the state already spends each year on public schools in an attempt to "modernize" school funding in the state.

The organization's other recommendations include:

  • Creating a new funding formula that funds students, not a list of school resources.

  • Requiring greater transparency on spending at the school and district level so that policymakers, voters, and parents can better understand education investment decisions, and hold local and state leaders responsible for results.

  • Solving longstanding questions and concerns regarding the local ability to support education, known as local fiscal capacity.

You can read the full story and find the entire report here.

Hearing from you

With that, is there anything The Tennessean might have missed?

I'd love to hear from you! You can reach me at mmangrum@tennessean.com or on Twitter @memangrum.

And thank you for reading! Our coverage of education and children's issues wouldn't be possible without Tennessean subscribers. If you aren't already one, please consider becoming a subscriber today.

Extra Credit

► The Tennessee Department of Education released a new data tool Monday, ahead of Gov. Bill Lee's State of the State address. The tool, a partnership with the SAS Institute, provides a variety of data to community members, including pre-pandemic projected student achievement compared to students' actual standardized test scores last year. Some questions remain, such as how the state determines "projected" performance, but the tool can be found online here.

► Nashville State Community College recently named a director for its new North Davidson campus located in Madison. Campus Director Kimberly Malone-Haddox started work on Jan. 4 ahead of the campus' slated opening later this spring. Classes will begin this fall.

DEADLINE EXTENDED: Metro Nashville Public Schools is still looking for volunteer tutors to work one-on-one with students who need help catching up in reading or math. Volunteers with the Accelerating Scholars program will be paired with a student in first, second or third grade to work on English language arts or eighth and ninth grade to work on math. Volunteers will meet virtually with students for three 30-minute sessions a week for 10 weeks. Volunteers will receive training and other resources. The deadline to sign up is Tuesday, Feb. 1. For more information: Tutor.MNPS.org.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Are Tennessee schools going virtual?

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